by Commodore Shemal Fernando,
RSP, USP, MSc
A smile or a joyful facial expression is the
mirror of the heart of the person. St. Paul invited "Philippines
to rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to
everyone" (Phil 4:4). Happiness is a gift, which comes from the
Holy Spirit. The newly appointed Bishop, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Valance
Mendis is a priest who is filled with the fruits of the spirit.
As a result we could see him always with a gentle smile in his
face. St. Paul explains those fruits of the spirit as love, joy,
peace. patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness
and self-control (Gal 5:22).
His Holiness John Paul II, the Supreme
Pontiff of the Universal Church has appointed Rt. Rev. Msgr.
Valence Mendis as the Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Chilaw.
The Diocese of Chilaw carved out on 5 January 1939 is 2,976
square kilometers in extent and boasts a Catholic population of
approx. 250,000. Late Rt. Rev. Dr. Edmund Peris, OMI, the first
Sinhalese Bishop of Sri Lanka served as the shepherd of the
diocese for 32 years from 12 January 1940 to 27 December 1972.
He was succeeded by Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Marcus
Fernando who has guided the flock admirably for yet another 32
years from 27 December 1972 upto now. Msgr. Valence, who will be
raised to the exalted position of a bishop with the Episcopal
Ordination on 2 April 2005 at Our Lady of Carmel Cathedral in
Chilaw will succeed the incumbent bishop upon his retirement on
reaching the age of 75 years on 19 October 2006.
The task of a Bishop is designated by the
Holy Sprit to take the place of the Apostles as a pastor of
souls and together with the Supreme Pontiff and subject to his
authority, he is commissioned to perpetuate the work of Christ,
the Eternal Pastor. For Christ commanded the Apostles and their
successors and gave them the power to teach all peoples, to
sanctify the people of God in truth and to give them spiritual
nourishment. By virtue, therefore, of the Holy Sprit who has
been given to them, a Bishop has been constituted true and
authentic teacher of the faith.
Bishop Devsritha Valence Mendis was born on
21 May 1958 and hails from Moratuwa. He is the eldest son of
late Mr. Bertram Mendis who was a Government Officer at the
General Treasury and later at the Puttlam Kacheri and of Mrs.
Iranganie Mendis of the Parish of Koralawella. His parents were
very humble and valued the proper upbringing and the endowments
of spiritual values to their children and especially his mother
has played a pivotal role in his priestly journey.
Bishop Valence was educated at St.
Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa from the Kindergarten to Grade 9
under the guidance of the De La Salle Brothers from 1963 to
1973. Then he joined Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa and
successfully completed the GCE(OL) in 1974.
After a brilliant school career, he was
beckoned by God to His vineyard to enable him to fulfill his
allotted vacation. The effusive showering of talents made young
Valence more and more conscious of his obligations before God.
These ideas and ideals which matured in him from childhood made
him what he became.
It was during this period that he heard the
voice of the Lord ever so softly whispering to him, ‘Come,
follow me’. Due to the sincerity and persistence of their son
and the great love that the parents had for the priesthood, the
young aspirant was sent to St. Paul’s Minor Seminary, Marawila
in 1975. A year later, he joined St. Julian Eymard Intermediate
Seminary in Haputale for his Propaedeutic studies and entered
National Seminary in Ampitiya in October 1976.
In the seminary, he set his goals straight
and chartered the correct course. His perfection was to seek
God’s will and fulfill it and as a result glory and honour
followed him – as the day follows the night. As a gifted
musician and a keen sportsman and also as the Dean of students
in National Seminary, he not only won the admiration of his
superiors as well as seminarians but also successfully completed
his philosophical and theological studies.
And the day dawned for young Valence to
approach the alter and Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando
ordained him a priest of the Diocese of Chilaw at St. Joseph’s
Church, Wennappuwa on 20th July 1985. The Holy Scripture
confirms that Abraham was asked to go to an unknown land and he
responded positively and similarly Jesus summoned his disciples
and asked them to go out on mission to preach the good news.
They too responded to the call of the Lord without any
In a similar manner, Bishop Valence responded
willingly to serve as a ‘Fidei Donum Priest’ in the Diocese of
Kandy, immediately after his ordination. His first appointment
was as Assistant Parish Priest of St. Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy
from 1985 to 1987. Thereafter, the Bishop of Kandy, Rt. Rev. Dr.
Vianney Fernando appointed him as the Parish Priest of Padiwatta
where he traversed new paths to uplift the living conditions of
his parishioners from 1987 till 1989.
Apart from his pastoral ministry, he made use
of his leisure to develop his knowledge in different fields and
as a result of that he earned the degree of Master of Arts from
the University of Peradeniya in 1987 and later served as a
visiting lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the same
Priestly formation is one of the most
important ministries in the Church. At the request of the
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, Bishop Valence joined
the permanent staff of the National Seminary in October 1989.
After three years of teaching experience, Bishop Valence was
sent to Rome to pursue his Doctoral studies.
Within two years of a serious study, he
obtained his Ph.D from the Urban University, Rome in 1994 and on
his return served as the Dean of Philosophy at the National
Seminary. He is a valued teacher of philosophy and theology but
Natural theology and the theology of religions are his forte.
His fluency in Sinhala, English and Italian and the working
knowledge of Tamil, German and Latin added finesse to his
A paradigm shift in Priestly formation in Sri
Lanka took place with the separation of the National Seminary
Philosophate and Thelogate. Bishop Valence had the honour of
being the first Director of the National Seminary’s new
Philosophate in October 2000. And once again the Catholic
Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka placed their trust and
confidence on him by installing him as the youngest Rector in
the 50 year history of the National Seminary on 4 February 2001,
the day of the feast of Our Lady of Lanka.
The stature and the capabilities of Bishop
Valence were really seen in his work as the Rector of the
National Seminary, where he worked tirelessly to raise the
overall quality of priestly formation by introducing vital
structural changes. Bishop Valence very often stressed the
importance of Spiritual formation and discipline, as the
launching pad for all other aspects of priestly formation.
The priest of the future must be a man of
God, a man fully immersed in the divine, a sign of holiness and
a sacramental presence of the kingdom to the world. He strongly
believed that all aspects of formation in the final analysis
should be directed towards forming a man with true human values
who could reflect this holiness to the world. Keeping this
objective in mind, he even extended the formation to the
Also, Bishop Valence took a keen interest to
foster unity and harmony among Christian Churches and with other
religions. He has been the Secretary of the Catholic National
Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue since 1995. Diocese
Commissions were formed to promote the apostolate of dialogue
during his period. He represented the Catholic Church of Sri
Lanka on many International Seminars and Conferences on
Ecumenism and Dialogue and has gained wealth of experience.
Coat of Arms
It is customary for members of religious
orders to display the Arms, or incorporate the insignia of their
order on the personal Arms when ordained to the Episcopate. This
custom has been continued by Bishop Valence and his motto will
be, "to unite all in charity" (UNIRE OMNES IN CARITATE).
The ‘Coat of Arms’ consist of three
intermingling circles, cross of the Jesus Christ, dove with an
olive sprig, colour blue, the fishing net and five pearls that
portrays the totality of the apostolic mission in symbolic art
form. And ensigning the whole achievement is a pontifical hat
with six tassels on each side, disposed in three rows all in
green. These are the heraldic insignia of a prelate of the rank
of bishop in accordance with the instruction of the Holy See,
dated 31 March 1969.
Indeed Bishop Valence has been prepared by
God in a wonderful way to take up the undaunted task of leading
His flock. His love for his priesthood has been infectious and
many priests, religious and laity found in him a sincere friend
and an understanding counselor. Bishop Valence will strive to
bind all those peoples in the bonds of charity to open the doors
of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the World, the joy of every
human heart, and the fulfillment of all our hopes!