11/10/2011, 00.00
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Fr Mike’s love and nonviolence among Sri Lankan Buddhists

by Melani Manel Perera
Today is the 24th anniversary of the assassination of Fr Michael Rodrigo, Oblate of Mary Immaculate. In an interview, a young Catholic professor, Anton Meemana, recalls Fr Mike’s life and mission. For many Sri Lankans, he was a “disciple of Christ par excellence”.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Fr Michael Rodrigo, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate (OMI) was murdered on 10 November 1987. Known as Fr Mike to everyone, he carried out his mission in the predominantly Buddhist village of Butthala. Over time, locals came to accept this man who learnt about their religion and respected it to the point of founding the Christian-Buddhist Dialogue Centre. By promoting love and nonviolence, Fr Mike shared in their struggles and for this reason he was killed. Many Sri Lankans today consider him a martyr. In order to mark the 24th anniversary of his death, AsiaNews has interviewed Anton Meemana, a young Catholic teacher.

How do you see the nature of the nonviolence and love Fr Mike showed during his life and mission?

Nonviolence and love are inseparable. The quality of our nonviolent actions depends on the quality of our love. Our capacity to love is our capacity for nonviolence. Our capacity for nonviolence is in proportion to our capacity for loving and forgiving. The true measure of love is how many victims one has helped. Love is our inability to refuse, our impotency to say no to victims of injustices.

Love aims at the other. Love is our incessant watching over of the other. Love is self-donation. Love is self-surrender. Love is at the service of life and love is a promoter of human relationships. Love is the foundation of nonviolence. One wants to love one’s enemies, even one’s political enemies. Our political oppressors, rapists, exploiters, racists, misogynists and imperialists are being loved, cared for, prayed for and blessed.

To make a friend out of the enemy is the greatest defeat of the enemy. Hatred strengthens the enemy. To love the enemy is to weaken him and to defeat him ultimately. Love increases our appetite for life. Love enhances zest for life. Love purifies our intentions. Love encourages us to go beyond ourselves and commit more and more for the others.

Really influential people are not very well known during their lifetime. They are recognised and appreciated only gradually. Fr Mike is more powerful than Wijeweera and Prabhakaran because he did not seek power. Really powerful people do not need power.

What is your impression of Fr Mike’s death?

His death is the real beginning of his mission and vision. The apparent failure in his mission is its fulfilment.

The true measure of freedom is our intrinsic capacity to love people who hate us, insult us, ridicule us, slander us, make fun out of us, spread rumours about us, and gossip about us.

To love them, bless them, pray for them, serve them, and help them without expecting anything in return is the very depth of one’s freedom and a manifestation of one’s humility. Fr Mike taught us this.

The more they abhor us, the more we must love them. Those who hate us deeply offer us an Evangelical opportunity. On behalf of them, we must bear witness to gospel values ardently.

What do you think about Fr Mike’s life and sainthood?

His influence and inspiration will be long lasting. Without destroying, he tried to build and nourish a better world. He tried to overcome evil not by annihilating it but by promoting good.

Violence is a sin against love. Violence is our innate capacity for hatred. Violence is a cover up for cowardice.

Nonviolent acts are acts of courage. Nonviolence requires greater courage and broader audacity. Nonviolence is our capacity to love without restrictions, reservations, limitations and expectations and freedom is our innermost capacity to love without expecting anything in return. We need to work incessantly without expecting immediate results.

Prabhakaran was, without a doubt, involved in terrorist activities. Still, we need to love him while condemning his bloodthirsty, ruthless, heartless, merciless, and inhuman terrorist acts. His terrorism is not an excuse for us to hate him. If we hate him then we exactly become like him.

This is also the case with Rohana Wijeweera. His politics was also politics of violence. He was a violent person, hence a hopeless person, an aimless person, a disoriented person. A violent person is an impatient person, a desperate person. People who rely on weapons are cowards.

Inner renewal is an ongoing self-correcting and lifelong process, the foundation of true revolution. Saints are the true revolutionaries. Only such individuals can bring about true emancipation in our world.

The Eucharist is the ultimate answer to war. The presence of Christ in Fr Mike’s life made his whole life Eucharistic and enthusiastic.

Fr Mike is the most Christ-like figure Sri Lanka has ever produced. He is the Sri Lankan disciple of Christ par excellence. Sri Lanka has been blessed because of people like Fr Mike. If Sri Lanka is to progress, it is necessary to follow Fr Mike’s teachings.
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