For Christian activist, the Pope spurs us to struggle as one people
by Melani Manel Perera
Dr Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council, talks about Pope Francis' visit to Sri Lanka. The pope offered people the "possibility of collectively remembering the past" and to shape the future together. The government has to accept "the reality of Sri Lanka as a multi0ethnic and multi-religious country."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - For Dr Perera, a Christian and the executive director of the National Peace Council, an independent human rights organisation, the first legacy of Pope Francis' visit to Sri Lanka is the fact that it "offered the possibility of collectively remembering the past and its costs and striving together as citizens of one country to find the way to a just and mutually acceptable political solution that ensures that such a collective tragedy never happens again."

A graduate in law and economics from Harvard, Dr Perera is also a columnist for the Daily Mirror and the Colombo-based Lanka Monthly Digest. In April 2007, he received the Khwaja Moinuddin Christi National Award for peace, tolerance and harmony by the Interfaith Harmony Foundation of India.

In his address at the arrival ceremony, "Pope Francis stressed the need for peace and reconciliation among different faiths," the activist said. Quoting the pontiff, he added, "the great work of rebuilding must embrace improving infrastructures and meeting material needs, but also, and even more importantly, promoting human dignity, respect for human rights, and the full inclusion of each member of society."

"This latter aspect has not received enough attention by the Sri Lankan State," Dr Perera noted. "A lot of money was spent on restoring the physical infrastructure in the North. But, as the Bible says, 'Man does not live by bread alone'. Human beings value freedom and want to be treated as equals by the state and society."

Even though the war is long over, he explained, "the damage caused by the war still continues to exist in the form of displaced people still awaiting to be resettled, missing persons to be found, civilian rule to be restored and political rights to be obtained. Polarisation within the country has continued.  The recent presidential election campaign exacerbated this polarisation."

However, "The post-war healing that is required today, especially in the aftermath of the Presidential Election, is not only for the people who were directly affected by the war, but also for those whose minds were subjected to a long period of one-sided propaganda in which the ethnic minorities were made to look as threats to the sovereignty and unity of the country and to the majority Sinhalese people. Their fears and concerns need to be addressed, as they are real to them."

In view of all this, "the pope's visit offered the people of Sri Lanka and the different religious communities the opportunity to show their goodwill to each other.

At the same time, "It also offered the government an opportunity to demonstrate to ethnic and religious minorities, and to the international community, that it accepts the reality of Sri Lanka as a multi0ethnic and multi-religious country."