03/06/2014, 00.00
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Sister Clarice, a life dedicated to Sri Lanka's young and to converting

by Melani Manel Perera
The sister, 96, is a member of the Order of the Holy Family. Her "most important mission" was to stand by young men and women who worked in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, exploited by their employers. Sister Clarice fondly remembers the hundreds of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims to whom she taught catechism.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - "The most important mission of my life has been supporting young people and proclaiming Christ to help others build their faith. This alone has made me happy," said Sister Mary Clarice Karunanayake, a 96-year-old nun who spoke to AsiaNews about herself and her mission in her native country.

A member of the Order of the Holy Family, the nun has always worked in the Colombo Province. Today she lives in Santha Samaya, a long-term care facility in Wennappuwa convent. "I worked hard for as long as I could," she noted, "and now I spend my old age in prayer."

Sister Clarice remembers when she received her vocation to the consecrated life. "God wanted me in 1940 when I was still a girl and lived in Dankotuwa (Western Province). I was studying at the monastery of Wennappuwa. I always liked the sisters since when I was little. Whenever I saw one, or a novice, I'd stare at them enraptured. When I finished my studies, I was able to fulfil my desire and I became a sister of the Holy Family. I also became a teacher and served in different girls schools."

Of her long life, she remembers with particular affection her support for young people who, in the 70s, worked in Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Katunayake, set up by the government as part of its open economic policy.

"At that time," she said, "many young men and women came to the Katunayake FTZ to work in textile factories or other plants. They would rent small houses and bought what they needed from the nearby shops. Soon, shopkeepers began to take advantage of these young people, raising prices. I could not stand this. So I, one of my fellow sisters and others bought rice, coconut, cooking oil, dried fish and vegetables to sell at reasonable prices to FTZ workers."

This enabled her to establish a different relationship with these young people. "We started to meet on their days off, and we explained to them that human beings need spiritual as well as physical support."

Shopkeepers and business people, however, could not tolerate this situation. "They tried to stop us," she remembers, "and one day they had Freddy arrested. He was a member of our group who helped us with FTZ workers. When I found out, I ran to the police to free him. I explained to them that I knew him and that he was innocent. They would not release him, so I stayed there and I prayed. He was released that evening. "

Sister Clarice remained with the workers of FZT for about five years. Then she began teaching catechism, and talk about Jesus to those who wanted to convert.

"This mission," she said, "was full of satisfaction and joy because it allowed me to come into close contact with those who wanted to embrace Christianity. Hundreds of people came to me to convert, including many Buddhists, as well as some Hindus and Muslims".

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