Pope Francis, With Buddhist Vesak A Week Away, Gives Pointed But Appropriate Message To Sri Lankan Bishops.
by Anura Guruge
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I, like so many other Sinhalese, have some MAJOR issues as to how the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka behaved during the 30 years of Civil War. But, then again, as a papal historian I am also acutely aware how the Catholic Church acted during WW II — especially in France where it was openly accused of collaborating with the Germans. I also hold no animosity towards the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka though they, c. 1964, supposedly tried to kidnap me twice! I guess I might feel different IF they had succeeded.
But, putting all of that aside, for now, I must say I liked the message Pope Francis gave to the Sri Lankan bishops, who were visiting the Vatican, on their 5-year cycle ad lima.
As some of you know, I, despite my rabid interest in popes, am NOT a Catholic or even a Christian. Never have been, never will be. I was raised in a very devout Buddhist family but gave up on Buddhism when I was 18. i now describe myself, very accurately, as a ‘reformed, born-again heathen‘. And it is as a heathen that I find the popes words were apropos.
Yes, of course, as is inevitable, the pope’s words are, by nature and habit, condescending and as ever carry the overt overtone of ‘lets get these darkie heathens converted’. But that is OK. They have been trying to do that now for 300 years. What I like are the words about ecumenism — which, I, like St. John XXIII to an extent, interpret as being ‘across religions’ rather than just across the various Christian flavors.
Growing up in Ceylon, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, one of my abiding memories was religious freedom and tolerance. Ours was a committed and activist Buddhist household. We had Buddhist monks coming to the house, morning and night, 7 days a week. I went to a Buddhist school. On average I would be at a Buddhist temple three times a week. But, my adopted mother, taught at a Baptist school and played the piano for them, every morning, for their church service. She loved it. My surrogate father, a huge influence in my life, who I called ‘Ta‘, the first two letters of ‘Tatta‘, the Sinhalese word for ‘father’ (which to my amazement is the same as that in Yiddish), was a Baptist. Our neighbors, who we interacted with daily, and were definitely a part of our extended, sprawling family, were Catholics. I had an aunty who was Christian an uncle whose mother was a devout Catholic. A dear family friend was a muslim.
But, now, from what I hear the Buddhists are getting out of control. Distresses me to hear that some of my cousins are in that camp. That amazes me. Growing up religious tolerance was so prevalent that we never even gave any thought. So I like the pope’s message. I would like Sri Lanka to go back to what it was in the 60s — though I realize that that, alas, would mean forgetting all the horrors of ‘The War‘.