06/17/2016, 17.47
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Colombo: celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first Sinhalese Catholic newspaper

by Melani Manel Perera

Gnarath Pradeepaya (Lamp of Wisdom) is one of Asia’s oldest papers. Published weekly, it carries news about economics, politics, and social issues as they relate to the Church. Readers like it because it focuses on “human affairs”. Founded in 1866 by a layman, today it is owned by the Archdiocese of Colombo.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Catholics and others celebrated the 150th anniversary of Gnarath Pradeepaya (Lamp of Wisdom), Sri Lanka’s first Catholic paper in Sinhalese and one of Asia’s oldest publciations.

At the beginning, the paper was a simple four-page newsletter announcing Catholic Church events. Now it is a 24-page weekly, in colour, with a circulation of 30,000. Since Sri Lankan Catholic families are large, with four to six children, this can mean a much larger readership.

John Fernando, a layman, founded the paper in 1866 with a staff of eight lay people and a priest. After about 20 years, the Archdiocese of Colombo bought him out.

For 150 years, the paper could be picked up each Friday at parish churches or on newsstands around the country. Recently, circulation has increased by almost 50 per cent, a sign of the great interest for the universal Church.

"When I arrived last year, 195 copies were sold a week. Now it’s 300,” said Reka Denipitiya, who sells the paper in St Mary Parish in Jael (a suburb north of Colombo). “This means that readers like the content and the news," she told AsiaNews.

The paper focuses on the Church in all its aspects – economics, politics, social issues – with a clear editorial line. News are evaluated from a faith perspective.

“There are many articles and news related to human affairs, current issues and the pope,” said Tharanga Nonis, a Catholic entrepreneur. “This is what gets people to buy Gnarath Pradeepaya."

Sunny Fernando has been distributing the paper for 45 years in Moratuwa (south of the capital). "When there were no modern media, the paper cost less 20 cents and was very useful in keeping people informed and educating Catholics."

The paper’s classified pages include funeral announcements as well as personal ads by people looking for a partner. Niluka Silva found her soulmate through the paper. Born Buddhist, she began reading the weekly, converted, and eventually found a personal ad that attracted her.

However, for Sunny Fernando, “the paper is not just death and wedding announcements. It provides a different way to view the country,” which is predominantly Buddhist.

Out of a population of 21 million, 70 per cent is Buddhist, about 10 per cent is Muslim, and 7 per cent is Christian.

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