01/04/2011, 00.00
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"The Pope's message on religious freedom crucial for Sri Lanka"

by Melani Manel Perera
Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, a political analyst and human rights activist, speaks to AsiaNews about the message launched by Benedict XVI for World Day of Peace, "Religious Freedom, the path to peace." Stressing that the faithful of every religion must root their beliefs in mutual respect.

 Colombo (AsiaNews) - "The Pope's message is very important to highlight the situation in Sri Lanka. If mistakes were made in the past, then Christians should be humble and ask for forgiveness, just as Pope John Paul II did on March 12, 2000, the first Sunday of Lent. " Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, coordinator of the Young Christian Workers Movement in Sri Lanka, a political analyst and human rights activist, spoke to AsiaNews about how the Pope’s message for the  World Day of Peace reflects the situation in his country.

In Sri Lanka we speak of the presence of 4 major religious traditions in the country. We publicly acknowledge it. At the same time there is no religious persecutions meted out directly to minority religious. The Constitution adopted in 1978 there is a special chapter on the place given to the religion of the majority. I do not think that people from the minority race or minority religions could aspire to the leadership of the country. Even though that fact is not stated so in the rules. Who so ever aspire to lead the country must be from the majority race or religion. Indirectly there is no sense of equality in the strict sense of the word. However the religious leaders from the four traditions do occasionally come together for joint projects.

In the last decade or two there were attempts to stifle conversions of restrict even genuine change of religion accusing the Christians for forced conversions. The accusing finger was directed towards the extreme groups. Probably saner council prevailed and the legislation was not enacted in the Assembly of the elected members.

So the message of the Pope is very relevant to assert the existing situation of Sri Lanka. “Religious Freedom,  the Path of Peace”. This fact must be hailed in Sri Lanka and there is the need to uphold this contention of the Pope and it had to be presented to all in a convincing manner. It is a fact that there is no planned violence or persecution but there can be elements of discrimination and suspicion against Christians.

The Religious freedom is a fundament right as well as an aspiration of every one emanating from the very dignity of  the human being as asserted by Holiness the Pope. It has to be respected by everyone without any restrictions. As pointed out by the Pope this right is basic to other rights because this right provides the basis for political, juridical and social rights of the human person. The Pope reiterates that religious right is not limited to one or other group but the patrimony of the whole human family. It provides the openness to serve the society at large. If this right is violated then the humanness of the individual will not be asserted. In this respect the Christians as well as other peoples of living faiths must ingrained in their codes of beliefs to respect one another in a mutual manner. In Sri Lanka the majority is fearful of the power of the minority and their universal organization while the minorities are afraid that their rights are not given the full freedom to assert their freedom for fear of misunderstanding.

The Christians in Sri Lanka have a specific role to play in clearing their misunderstandings and create situations of justice and truth. Historically there is an accusation that Christians were favoured by the Colonial masters whether it is true or false difficult to gauge. If mistakes have been done in the past, then Christians must be humble to seek forgiveness, just as Pope John Paul II asked pardon in the year 2000 on the 12th of March – First Sunday of Lent.

Further that Christians must seek in a very humble manner uphold and respect the beliefs of the majority religion the Buddhism. It does not mean that they have to follow the ritualistic practices but for ethical and moral values, We Christians can be inspired by their tolerance, peace which can be achieved in a human. We also need to accept the differences of their religions. We should avoid competition in the realm of religion but work for freedom of every one. I do feel that we need to resolve these suspicions and misgivings among us by working this out in various levels. I do pray and feel that local Catholic Commissions do take this message of the pope seriously and take to the grass roots level.



Melani Manel Perera collaborated


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