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Sesquicentenary for Sri Lanka’s Catholic paper

Colombo (UCAN): “We must move away from the era when we thought of ourselves as Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim individually or as Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic or Catholic,” Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, from Colombo, Sri Lanka, said on January 11, at an event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the country’s oldest Catholic newspaper, Gnanartha Pradeepaya (Lamp of Wisdom).

In marking the sesquicentenary, the cardinal said that the country must make a shift from where people identify themselves based on race or religion and, as he criticised some of the nation’s media  for deliberately promoting division among people, urged the Sri Lankan population to leave old hatreds behind. 

The landmark anniversary celebration was also attended by the Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena.

“What is required of us today is not to indulge in the hateful, racial and religious ideologies that can result in being imprisoned in the dark attitudes of the past,” Cardinal Ranjith said, adding, “It is the need of the times to be bold enough to ban political parties and other extremists that base their manifestoes on racial and religious ideologies.”

The cardinal went on to say, “It is our primary responsibility to protect the identity of the majority and at the same time to protect the identities of minorities.” 

Seventy per cent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people identify themselves as Buddhist, 10 per cent as Muslim, 12 per cent as Hindu and seven per cent as Christian.

Taking a swipe at the mass media, Cardinal Ranjith said, “Some… try to gain cheap popularity through igniting racial and religious disharmony and mistrust.” 

In 2014, the United Nations rights office said there were 88 attacks against Muslims and 55 against Christians, while last year, Bodu Bala Sena, a radical Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist organisation, joined with a collection of controversial organisations from the Union of Myanmar to campaign against Muslims and Christians.

Father Shanthasagara Hettiarachchi, the editor of Gnanartha Pradeepaya, echoed the cardinal’s stand on banning political groups in Sri Lanka that promote hateful, racial and religious ideologies. 

Religious minorities should not try and control society, but should understand the common Buddhist culture and through that, people would be able to work together.

Speaking to Sri Lanka’s Daily News on January 13, he said that the Gnanartha Pradeepaya has “shaped a national Christian thinking pattern which was also the main objective of the paper.” 

Father Hettiarachchie noted that when the newspaper started, it did not limit itself to religious matters and that it has stood the test of time and earned the grudging respect of even some of the most critical elements in society.


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