Features
Cathedral bells chime on consecration of new Bishop 

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.

Birth

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.

Divine Call

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.

Priesthood

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 hesitation.

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 university.

Doctoral Studies

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 teaching skills.

Youngest Rector

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 Ordained Priests.

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!

 

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