02/24/2015, 00.00
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Anglican bishop: Religious diversity, a gift for people of Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera
Kumara Illangasinghe was appointed Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the Parliament of World Religions. He hopes his office will help him to teach people how to "live in peace and harmony," and "not allow religious extremism."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - "Using the gift of religious diversity to bring benefits to the people of Sri Lanka". Kumara Illangasinghe, Anglican Bishop of Kurunegala, tells AsiaNews that this is what motivates him in his appointment as ambassador of former Ceylon to the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. With him, a total of 63 personalities have been selected from all over the world. Ten from Asia - five from India, two from Pakistan and one each for Sri Lanka, Nepal and Russia. Including the United States, Canada and Mexico, there are 42 delegates; six from Europe; two from Africa; three from Oceania. Interviewed by AsiaNews, the bishop speaks of what he expects from this new position. Kumara Illangasinghe was president of the Theological College of Lanka from 1992 to 1999. In 2000 he was consecrated the fourth Bishop of Kurunegala, after Msgr. Andrew Kumarage retired.

Your Grace, how long will you hold this position?
Typically the appointment is two years.

Why do you think you were chosen as ambassador?
Sri Lanka is an important country in respect of religions, as we are the home for four major living religions and a few other religions in the world. They have recognized my involvement in religious work for the welfare of human beings and my efforts to foster understanding and respect for each other and to truly use the gift of diversity of religions in Sri Lanka for human benefit. This diversity is something to be celebrated and to be frightened of. It is important locally, regionally as well as globally to build and nurture relationships. We need to learn from each other. May be also because I have always encouraged our people, especially the Christians to work in corporation with people of all religions. During the time of the war I encouraged all our clergy to set up peace committees with leaders of all religions in their respective areas. I have never been in favor of religious extremism or religious violence and stood for peaceful co-existence. These may be the reasons. 

What are the most immediate responsibilities awaiting you in this new mission ?
The next Parliament session takes place at the Salt Palace Convention Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah, US, for five days from October 15, 2015. So, ahead of that I am expected to create awareness about the Parliament among all our people and to encourage as many persons as possible to participate in the Parliament. 

How will this position benefit the people of Sri Lanka?
Yes, in Sri Lanka we have experienced religious extremism in the recent past and some of our leaders have been responsible for religious violence in the country. This should not happen in our beloved nation. And our people should live in harmony and peacefully. Our people should be encouraged to love each other and try and learn from each other, while respecting and understanding each other. Inter-faith work in Sri Lanka needs more space and encouragement. I committed myself for that very reason.


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