The third and final symposium on Religious Harmony, organized by Caritas Sri Lanka was held in Kilinochchi on the 12th & 13th of October 2017 under the theme “Religious Harmony for Peace and Prosperity’’. This is part of the project titled “Religious Amity”, funded by Caritas Norway/NORAD from 2015.
A group of approximately 130 participants representing the Dioceses of Chilaw, Colombo, Kurunegala, Trincomalee and Vanni took part in the 2-day programme. There were Religious Leaders of different faiths, members of the Inter-Religious Forums of the respective Dioceses and several staff from the Caritas National Centre and Caritas Vanni-HUDEC.
Similar to the previous two symposiums, this programme too was consisted of religious observances, group discussions and cultural presentations.
The chief guest for the inauguration session was Ms. Rupawathi Ketheeswaran, the Government Agent of Mullaitivu District. Addressing the gathering, she stated that the Religious Leaders should take the lead role promoting reconciliation among different ethnic and religious groups. She also pointed out the importance of respecting the religious and faith values and rituals of others while following our own.
The main speech at the event was delivered by Rev. Fr. Francis Jeyasekaram of Jaffna. He spoke on the timely need of unity among different religious groups and the role of Religious Leaders in promoting reconciliation. He further mentioned that there were so many conflicts among our people in the past. Small incidents or conflicts were blown out of proportion or exaggerated to the extent that it created un-necessary and sometimes dangerous situations in the environment. He said that it is unfortunate that such intolerance had spread among the religions too and become ‘ammunition’ in the hands of extremist groups. Fr. Jeyasekeram referred to an attack on Christians in Kenya in 2015 in which both Christian and Muslim passengers travelling in a bus were targeted. When the attackers demanded that the Christians identify themselves, both the Christian and Muslim passengers stood together and told the attackers to kill everyone if they want to do so. This was a good example of solidarity and unity among different religious groups.
Rev. Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke, The National Director of Caritas Sri Lanka, quoting the Special LLRC Recommendation for Religious Harmony and the Sustainable Development Goal 16 on Peace said that it is the responsibility of each one of us to carry the message of Peace and Harmony to our own communities. Further, he requested the continued support of all the Religious Leaders in the Peace initiatives of Caritas Sri Lanka.
The second day of the programme was more significant as the Programme advisor from Caritas Norway, Mr. Aron Halfen, was also present at the event. Addressing the gathering, Mr. Halfen stated that he is indeed privileged to witness the gathering of Religious Leaders from various parts of the country for the common purpose of finding avenues to promote religious harmony in their localities and communities. While appreciating the work of the Inter-Religious Forums from the year 2015, he also expressed the importance of the continuation of the programme in the future.
The chief guest for the 2nd day was Very Rev. Fr. P.J Jebaratnam, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Jaffna. In his speech he stated that after 30 years of war, it is not easy to bring peace within a very short period of time, it may need another 30 years for reconciliation. He said that the definition of war is a fight against evil and the definition for peace is also a fight against evil.
‘‘During the war people had to make a lot of sacrifices. When it comes to peace, we have to make more sacrifices. That is why all religions must get together in this effort. When there is a conflict between two parties, we have to accept our mistakes instead of saying ‘I am right’. When you point one finger at another, there are three fingers pointing at you,’’ he went on to say.
The programme was organized under the guidance of Rev. Fr. Joseph Francis, Director of Caritas Vanni- HUDEC.