Caritas Sri Lanka organized a religious symposium in Jaffna recently with the objective of creating opportunities for peace and harmony between different religious groups in the country. Several religious leaders representing Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Christian faiths, Diocesan level peace activists, government officers, Sri Lanka Army Officials Diocesan and Caritas National Centre Staff participated in the 2-day programme, held at Thalsevana Hotel in Kakesanthurai, Jaffna.
Around 120 participants who took part in the programme shared their views, deep personal experiences on inter-religious harmony, while the religious leaders shared insights as to how the respective religious teachings and precepts have framed the idea of peace, harmony and co-existence, especially as defined in each of their religions. The participants came from 4 Dioceses namely, Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Kandy and Mannar on 5th and 6th of July.
Welcoming the participants, the National Director of Caritas Sri Lanka, Rev.Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke who was also the Chief Guest of the Symposium stated that religious harmony is a timely necessity and though our work is small step, its a giant leap in creating peace. In addition referring to all the four major religions, he illustrated examples of religious harmony, using examples from the lives of leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, he emphasized how the great man reached out to the untouchables in India using the forgotten precepts in the Hindu Vedas. He said that there are so many important aspects in our religions which we have not discovered yet.
The two-day symposium included many activities such as group discussions, religious dialogues, cultural presentations, exposure visits and a walk where the participants held the posters and placards depicting slogans of religious amity. During the exposure tours, all the participants visited Dambakola Patuna Buddhist Temple, Keerimalai Naguleswaram Hindu Temple, Keerimlai Pond, Mohamadeeya Jumma Masjid Mosque and St. Mary’s Cathedral in Jaffna.
The group discussions during the symposium saw lively discussions on several key issues that have been stumbling blocks to the creation of a conducive environment for religious amity.
The symposium was held in Sinhala and Tamil languages.
On the first day, each diocese presented their DC level inter-religious activities under the project implementation using video and power point presentations.
Rev.Fr.M.V.E. Ravichandran, Director for Youth Commission and for St.Joseph Vaz Theological College, delivering the main Speech of the Symposium stated that in Sri Lanka, we have all the four major religions but we also have seen, enough atrocities committed and enough blood shed. He asked the audience whether it meant that the religions have not been able to address the issues we face. He further said that Sri Lankans are in need of religious harmony and dialogues today like no other time in the Sri Lankan history. He also reiterated the need to influence the government agencies to work for peace, justice and reconciliation.
In the evening, a cultural presentation was held where songs, dances, dramas and poems were used as a source of entertainment and creating awareness about the importance of living in a multi religious and ethnic environment.
The second day of the symposium opened the forum with religious leaders representing 4 major religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, praying and chanting in their respective faiths.
This is the first of its kind Regional Inter Religious Symposium planned, and two more symposiums will be held during year covering the other parts of the Island. The programme was held under the guidance of the Caritas Jaffna – HUDEC Director, Rev. Fr. S. Eugene Francis.
Caritas Sri Lanka organized this Regional Symposium under the project titled, ‘’ Creating a Conducive Environment for Religious Amity’’. This is a Caritas Norway – NORAD supported 3 year project implemented between 2015 and 2017.