Fr. Mike, prophet and martyr of modern Sri Lanka
by p. Reid Shelton Fernando
The Oblate of Mary Immaculate priest was killed in 1987 in Buttala. The anniversary of his ordination falls in July. The memory of his great work among the poor.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - July marks the anniversary of ordination of Fr. Michael Rodrigo, Oblate of Mary Immaculate murdered by an unknown assailant in 1987 in Buttala. Fr. Mike is considered a "prophet" and a "martyr" of Sri Lanka of the twentieth century for his work among the local Buddhist community, into which he had managed to integrate himself and to teach about Christianity without violating their customs and traditions. Below, AsiaNews publishes a public testimonial by Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, chaplain of Young Christian Workers (YCW) and Christian Workers Movement (CWM). 

I first met Fr. Mike in 1962, when I joined the National Seminar Ampitiya (Kandy). He was my professor of philosophy, but he also taught logic, psychology and Buddhism. He was a good teacher. When he left the seminary to take a sabbatical, he developed a sense of love for people, and went on to join Msgr. Leo Nanayakkara in Sevaka Sevana ("House of Ministries"), a formation center for young priests in the region of Uva Wellassa. There he remained there until the bishop's death.

In 1980, Fr. Mike began his mission in the village of Buttala, to bring the Word of God among the majority Buddhist population. There, he lived in a small mud hut.  His focus on inculturation, interreligious dialogue and integration did not please the Church hierarchy. He was with the people and helped them to understand how they risked being exploited by the world of politics and business. In what many called his "ashram", he set in act a genuine freedom movement. Fr. Mike incorporated the principles of the liberation in Buddhism, and brought Christianity and a new awareness among people.

He has been described as a prophet. But he was not popular among the political leadership, and was eliminated. He is a martyr, but is not accepted by his own Church. It is a pity that his diocese and his congregation have not done more to keep his memory alive.

 

(With the collaboration of Melani Manel Perera)

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