08/25/2009, 00.00
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Death of Mgr. Fernando, "voice of the voiceless" in Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera
A leading figure of the island’s episcopate, he became bishop at only 34 years. The faithful and people of his diocese remember him for the battles in defence of small fishermen, the poor, the environment and for his support for media as an instrument for evangelization. In 2004 he led the opposition to anti-conversion law proposed by the party of Buddhist monks.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The Church of Sri Lanka mourns death of Msgr. Frank Marcus Fernando, Bishop Emeritus of Chilaw, who died on August 24. Voice of the voiceless, defender of the environment, fierce prosecutor of injustice and corruption: the faithful of the diocese where he served for 41 years remember him as a father who has spent his life for his community and for the good of society.

Born October 31, 1931, Msgr. Fernando attended first the minor and then the major seminary of Colombo, before being sent to Rome to study by then archbishop of the capital, card. Thomas Cooray. Ordained a priest in the Eternal City on 22 December 1956 he returned home in 1965 where he became auxiliary bishop of Colombo, at the age of 34. In 1972 he was sent to Chilaw as coadjutor thus beginning his mission in the coastal town of the North Western Province where he spent the rest of his life. His work has never been limited to a single diocese, but had as its horizon the whole country and even Asia.

Sri Lanka's Catholics and Christians of various denominations on the island remember the stubborn commitment with which, in 2004, Msgr. Fernando led t opposition to anti-conversion law proposed by the party of Buddhist monks, succeeding in obtaining justice from the Supreme Court of Colombo.  

A strong supporter of the importance of media in missionary work in 1978 Msgr. Fernando founded the Sudasuna center, which over the years has become one of the major Catholic media centers of South Asia, and supported the work of Radio Veritas in the Philippines as a means to evangelize the peoples of the continent.  

The bishop emeritus of Chiilaw also campaigned on behalf of small fishermen in his diocese. In their defence, in the '80s, he opposed the construction of a facility intended to house the studios of Voice of America that would have resulted in the expropriation of land on which hundreds of fishing families lived. In his defence of the poorest people, Msgr. Fernando did not shy from clashing with authorities in Sri Lanka when they were planning to dismantle entire villages and spoil the environment to build a coal plant in Norachcholai.

Hundreds of faithful, religious and nuns attended the requiem Mass presided over today by Msgr. Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in the Archbishop's house in the capital. The funeral of Msgr. Fernando will be celebrated in Chilaw of where the body of the Bishop was transferred in mid-afternoon.

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