Caritas Sri Lanka organized a discussion on the recent terror attacks on Easter Sunday and its aftermath at the National Centre on 9th May 2019. The discussion was graced by some prominent members of the Catholic, Christian and Buddhist clergy and leading members of Civil Society.
The Discussion was opened by Rev. Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke, National Director who explained the purpose of the discussion. He said that there is a loss of hope and a loss of economic stability in the aftermath of the disaster. Religious leaders strongly feel that they have a role to play to disseminate the message of peace. Fr. Mahendra referred to Pope Francis’s message on Easter Sunday during Urbi et Orbi addressed to Sri Lanka and his letter to His Eminence Cardinal Ranjith expressing his profound solidarity once more as well as the Cardinal’s message of caution not to harm anybody and let the law enforcement authorities enforce the law. He then referred to the activities which Caritas Sri Lanka has already initiated to implement a Psychological and Pastoral Support Programme in coordination with Caritas Colombo – Sethsarana. He referred to the panel discussion which was held on the 22nd of April at the National Peace Council which was attended by religious and civil society representatives. The objective was to heal the wounds of the affected people and this discussion was arranged to carry forward this programme in the future.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Diloraj Canagasabai, Bishop of the Anglican Church said that they were meeting at a time when the Catholic and Christian communities were severely hurt. When one part of the body is hurt, the whole body is hurt because we are made of the body of Christ. The Bishop said that the overriding responsibility cast on religious leaders was to act with intelligence, courage and firmness to maintain peace within the communities. As Christians, we had a role to play, to build bridges and structures to promote reconciliation. This was not optional, but mandatory.
Ven. Dr. Kumbalgoda Dhammaloka Thero, a Buddhist prelate referred to the Buddha’s first sermon where he advocated moderation in behavior and exhorted people to shun extremism. The Ven Thero said that the Buddha had reiterated that dividing ourselves on ethnic and religious basis was foolish. Every human being has a right to choose what to believe and worship. We all have to live together in harmony.
Mr. Javid Yusf, Lawyer and former Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Saudi Arabia representing Muslim civil society said that a group of individuals defied all norms of human behavior in indulging in such attacks. Human beings needed to resolve differences through dialogue. Islam stressed the sanctity of life and killing one life was akin to killing humanity. We needed to become an example of a country that can live together. This was possible if we are prepared to have a civilized dialog to clear each other’s doubts. One does not need to agree with what another person is saying, but understand what the other person is saying. There was a need to respect diversity. He concluded by saying that there was need to respect the rule of law and to be cautious of the use of social media which was promoting hate speech and disrupting communal harmony.
Dr. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council said that the country needed to take a sophisticated and nuanced approach to deal with this situation as the group that was involved was foreign inspired and they had a global vision. There was thus a need for National Security response. The biggest challenge is to carry on with the security operation without marginalizing any community.
He stressed that our society should not see a common enemy, but resolve this problem together. In this context he referred to the proceedings of the 1st panel discussion and the 5 committees that were set up to move this process forward. These included;
1) The issue of Pakistan / Afghan refugees in Sri Lanka
2) Messages of care – to counter hate speech
3) Monitoring the emergency
4) Mitigating conflict on the ground and
5) Meetings with political and religious leaders to promote reconciliation.
He concluded by emphasizing that the Catholic Church had a role to play in preserving the peace.