02/21/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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New bishop in Trinco-Batticaloa: "hope" beyond the war

by Nimal I Perera
The pope has appointed Joseph Ponniah as auxiliary bishop of this northern diocese. He tells AsiaNews of his "surprise and joy" at learning the news, and of his efforts to bring hope where only desperation seems to remain.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The new auxiliary bishop of Trincomalee-Batticaloa in northern Sri Lanka welcomes his appointment with "great surprise", and says he intends to be a "source of hope" for a population that is increasingly desperate on account of the war. On February 19, Benedict XVI appointed Joseph Ponniah as auxiliary of the diocese, where he was already vicar general. The new bishop tells AsiaNews about the spirit in which he approaches his new post. "I am filled with joy, and I accept this challenge as a surprising gift from God", Ponniah says. "I feel I have been called to be hope for the hopeless, to help our people to remain firm in their faith in God in spite of a situation of complete uncertainty" in the country.

The new bishop was born on October 12, 1952, in Thannamunai, Batticaloa. After studying at St Joseph's Minor Seminary and at St Joseph's College in Trincomalee, he took classes in philosophy at the St Paul seminary in Thiruchirapally, India, and theology classes at the national seminary in Poonah, also in India.  He was ordained a priest on April 30, 1980, and taught Pauline theology at the national major seminary in Ampitiya, Kandy. "My appointment in this year dedicated to St Paul", Ponniah continues, "is a sign: it is also the year in which we celebrate the 25th anniversary of my bishop, Joseph Kingsley Swampillai, next May 10; the date will also be that of my consecration, and the motto that I have chosen for my ministry is 'For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved' (2 Corinthians 2:14)".

The diocese of Trincomalee-Batticaloa was established on August 25, 1893, and in 2004 it had 62,078 baptised out of 1,514,336 inhabitants.

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