Caritas Sri Lanka – SEDEC with deep regret and sorrow announces the demise of its
Rev. Fr. Joseph Benedict Devarajah – on 10th August 2020, in Jaffna.
“ For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’’
( 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 )
In 1995, Rev. Fr. Joseph Benedict Devarajah who had been very closely associated with SEDEC in the rehabilitation work in conflict areas was appointed Director. He brought with him the idealism that had sustained that vision when he had been in charge of the formation and growth of HUDEC-Jaffna (Human Development Centre). When HUDEC commenced its work in 1970, Fr. Devarajah on a request made by the Bishop of Jaffna had started a mission in the islands where a very marginalized community of fishermen lived. He was the first indigenous priest to bring them into the mainstream of development. He began an integrated development programme for the people of Iranitivu. This programme consisted of two components and emphasized building co-operatives for fisherman and credit societies and providing at the same time, nutrition and health education.
Mechanised boats were introduced to this community which had earlier eked out an existence by ‘set-net’ fishing. A beche-de-mer industry too was also started to help the people. Fr. Deverajah obtained guidance in animating and mobilising these marginalized people from Fr. Joe Fernando and he notes with pride that one of the young graduates who helped him in these initial stages was the Government Agent of Killinochchi. In 1977 Fr. Deverajah took over the rehabilitation of the refugees and displaced persons. It was during this time CRONE (Catholic Relief Organisation for North and East) came into operation to facilitate the movement of funds for the rehabilitation of refugees.
In 1982, the Diocese of Jaffna was divided and a new diocese, that of Mannar, came into existence. Fr. Deverajah was placed in charge of the Madhu Church in the Mannar Diocese. During this period he started a SEDEC Diocesan Centre named Valvuthayam in Mannar (the dawn of a new life). This Centre was concerned with the setting up of new settlements for those who were displaced by the ethnic conflict. In addition, emphasis was laid on setting up cooperatives for fishermen. In 1989, Mannar had 23 Fisheries Cooperative Unions and in recognition of his services, Fr. Deverajah,was appointed to the Fisheries Board.
Fr. Deverajah was also concerned with the development of agriculture for youth and provided animation for agricultural units to set-up subsidiary food crop plantations and, through the means of agricultural co-operatives, to obtain farming equipment. Fr. Deverajah brought to SEDEC his expertise in concepts of the integral development of man based on the teachings of the papal encyclicals. He also brought his concern and commitment regarding the rehabilitation of refugees and displaced persons. “Development is a necessary component for peace,” says Fr. Deverajah and it was within that framework that he guided the National Centre – SEDEC into the third millennium.
While thanking profusely and appreciating everything that Rev. Fr. Joseph Benedict Devarajah left us with, we all in the Caritas family wish him a pleasant journey and may his soul rest in peace.