11/11/2020, 14.59
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Christians celebrate Fr Mike, a prophet and martyr in Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera

Thirty-three years after the priest’s murder, Christian groups hold a videoconference to remember him. Committed to defending the weakest and the oppressed, he was not afraid of speaking out against abuse and oppression. For many, he introduced "a new way of being Christian".

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Yesterday, Christian groups remembered Fr Michael Rodrigo, a Catholic priest shot dead on 10 November 1987. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions on gatherings, a videoconference was held via Zoom to celebrate what many believe to be the Prophet and martyr of modern Sri Lanka.

The priest was one of the most authoritative voices in the history of Uva Wellassa-Monaragala. Giving up the traditional priestly life, he went to the village of Uva Wellassa to live a more practical and real existence, personally defending the most unfortunate and oppressed in the Buttala area and the surrounding villages.

Fr Mike was murdered at his home, better known as “Suba Seth Gedara” (House of those who wish good), in Buttala, because he openly fought against the injustices perpetrated against the poorest.

With two university degrees, the clergyman turned his life upside down by abandoning teaching at the national seminary to live poor among the poorest. He was convinced that the only way forward for Sri Lankan Catholics was through dialogue between religious groups and people of different faiths and paths. His outgoing, complex personality made him a guide, a defender of rights, a man of faith and – ultimately – a martyr.

In what follows, three prominent Sri Lankan Catholics speak to AsiaNews about Fr Mike.

Fr Nandana Manatunga, director of the Human Rights Department of the Diocese of Kandy

Even though he knew that his life was in danger, he did not want to run away and abandon his people. On the contrary, he lived with his people until he was killed, whilst celebrating Mass.

We shall never find a priest like Fr Mike in Sri Lanka, because he was able to challenge sin in its structural essence and, for this reason, he paid the price with his life.

Today nobody dares or has the courage to challenge corrupt leaders, even our country’s so-called religious leaders who go after [corrupt] politicians for personal benefits.

Brother Rehan Derick Fernando SJ, human rights activist

Ours is not a commemoration, it is not a reminiscence; it is a celebration. His knowledge, his professional wisdom has been of great benefit to Sri Lanka’s poor and oppressed.

This is precisely the best quality he possessed and that I most admired in him. He not only studied the reality of the people he interacted with, but he went out firsthand to the edges [of the world] to be truly in the fullest service of the poor.

Fr Sherard Jayawardana, teacher and human rights activist

Fr Mike’s vision and mission represent a challenge for all of us Christians, especially for the priests of this land. He made himself poor to enrich the lives of the poorest in this nation, especially the people, the men and women of the villages in the Buttala area.

He was personally involved in interreligious dialogue, from the lowest to the highest levels. And he always stood up for the weakest and the oppressed.

Fr Mike was close to the peasants and the villagers who protested against the injustices caused by the projects promoted by the Palawatta Sugero Corporation.

He understood well why young people, not only in the south but also in the north, decided to take up arms against the government.

He opened our eyes to the injustices committed against the Tamils ​​in the north and the east, and against the peasants, victims of the plantation projects.

Lastly, the martyred priest introduced a new form, a new way of being Christian in Sri Lanka.

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