For genuine reconciliation, all religions must collaborate

By Rev. Father S.J. Emmanuel
 In recent years after the end of the war, there has been some talk and some efforts made by the government and politicians with regard to reconciliation. In my view these efforts did not bring any desired fruit mainly because the government and politicians were treating the theme of reconciliation among peoples, namely, winning the hearts and minds of people, as a political effort, without the active and competent cooperation of civic and religious leaders.
 Peace-secretariat and commissions were established, volumes on the theme of “Road to Reconciliation” were printed and widely distributed and efforts continue. The new government also has appointed a commission under the chairmanship of former President Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. I have nothing to say about the competence and good intentions of the former president and her new role. But on the whole reconciliation of our people cannot be abandoned into the hands of politicians neither of the past nor of the future.
 Past history is witness to the misuse of religions by politicians as well as by religious leaders in escalating the conflict and war. Let us be wise and prudent at least now when we have a new regime with the prospect of “ a new political culture” to do some serious thinking and commit ourselves to reconciliation inviting all the necessary and competent sectors to participate.
 In my capacity as a man of religion, I will limit myself to sharing some thoughts about the role of the four religions with respect to genuine reconciliation.
 Religions need contextualization
 Though Sri Lanka, the beautiful paradise and a holiday island, blessed with a chance to forge a rich unity out of the diversity of peoples, languages and cultures, the necessary motivation and enlightenment necessary to facilitate mutual understanding, appreciation and respect for one another and forge a peaceful coexistence was awfully missing. I think this is unfortunately due to a great extent the non-involvement or ineffectiveness of the four world religions in the living context of the people.
 Each religion while holding on to the teachings and the universal mission as declared, while celebrating its mysteries and strengthening its faithful within the walls of its institutions and their practices, it has to take its mission in the context of a country and people more seriously. They seem to narrow down their goal to helping individuals with respect to their personal redemption and betterment, rather than enabling them to living happily and peacefully as a human community. Although each religion professes to be for the wellbeing of human beings, there appears to be a false competitiveness and misunderstanding regarding their common mission. Instead of being one against the other (anti-religions), or run in competition with one another, they are all called to identify evil forces in society hindering peaceful coexistence of peoples and fight against those forces.
 Hence even at this late hour, it is up to the religious leaders to rethink their understanding of religion in the multiethnic multicultural context of Sri Lanka, to reform and renew their lifestyle and mission so as to be effective in helping the people for a peaceful coexistence in Sri Lanka. After all it is a crime to leave the supreme good of peaceful-existence of peoples, entirely in the hands of politicians and governments.
 Going beyond Dialogue to Collaboration
 In recent times efforts have been made to reduce misunderstandings and dislikes for one another through inter-religious dialogues. There have been a promotion of the dialogue of life at the grass-roots level to a dialogue of mutual appreciation, but little of inter-religious collaboration for the common good. Last year there was an inter-religious dialogue organized at the Colombo Kadirgamer Institute, and I followed it up by internet, on the invitation of its president Mr.Abeyagunawardene. Most part of the contributions were sermons from their own religious pedestals, exposing their teaching on love, compassion, peace etc, but very little did I hear of exploring ways and means of an inter-religious collaboration for realizing reconciliation.
 Religion why and for what purpose?
 Religions are meant to serve the welfare and redemption or liberation of man. Religion is for man and not man for the religion. Religions are born in the history of humanity when the search and thirst of man to find out the truth and seek help from ultra worldly-powers are responded by what is known as revelations to man through sages, prophets and holy beings. Based on the teachings of revelations and sages, this link between man and the super-human power ( religion from the latin re-ligare) get institutionalized in history.
 A religion is to serve man in his context of life, not divorced from it. Religions serve human beings in varied ways but for a single cause – his welfare, liberation or salvation. The people of Sri Lanka, be they Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or Christians, they are all meant to serve the people in their life as individuals and community members, in sociopolitical and economic life. Though their contributions are spiritual guidance, impetus and motivation, which they gain from their religious teachings, community celebrations, prayers and exercises, they are indispensable and instrumental in building up better human beings as individuals and a better peaceful society. If they resort only to prayer and desist from doing something to improve the situation, then even prayer becomes escapist.
 Very often religious leaders act from their pedestals of moral power to condemn evil but do not lift their finger to combat that evil. Condemnations may be the first step to action, but if they stop merely with condemnations, they are pharisaic.
 Unfortunate historical events and pressures on religions
 But the ability to play the noble and positive role of serving man and community in Sri Lanka, each of the religions has been defined or limited by other historical events and pressures.
 In Sri Lanka, each religion by reason of their varied depths and influence among the people, they were expected to play key roles in shaping a united and peaceful community. Unfortunately each religion had a limited and even negative understanding of its role in the larger society. They sometimes remained anti-political or apolitical or too political.
 More than being centripetal, religions need to be centrifugal (Anthropocentric)
 Religions, as the soul and motivating force among the various peoples, were inward-looking and self-centred towards feeding and caring for their own followers. They were not sufficiently outward looking to take responsibility for all the peoples and cultures to live in peace with a unique Sri Lankan identity. Religions, as the soul and motivating force among the various peoples, were inward-looking and self-centred towards feeding and caring for their own followers.
 On the other hand there were also religious extremists or fanatics, who misuded religion for their own misconduct or racism. The passivity od the good does more harm than the activity of the bad. Because of the silence and apolitical stance of religious leaders, or of their distancing too much from their political responsabilities, the extremists flourish with their misconduct.
 By their growth and nature they have played their roles either in a destructive way or non-concerned or indifferent way or influencing way.
 Some suggestions
 Instead of appointing our own political leaders, who are in some way part of the problem, to lead reconciliation efforts, non-politicians, religious and civic leaders, philanthropists and charismatic leaders, even from other countries, must be invited to form groups at the national and provincial levels. Sufficient funds from within and without the country should be made available for such efforts.
 Listening to victims of the long drawn out conflict and war goes a long way in healing. Besides none will benefit by revenge-taking and anger. Only forgiveness can pave the way for the future. Formation of inter-religious groups of leaders and activists who can move around the country taking the message of tuth, justice and forgiveness, who can engage in listening to the woes of the affected (listening therapy), meeting victims offering solace and tending apologies on behalf of accused
 Conducting peace prayers and public apologies on behalf of offenders…
 Formation of humanitarian groups directed to meet the victims of the missiong persons, those killed.
 It is up to all well wishers of Sri Lanka to put their heads together, invite various sectors of society and their leaders to explore possibilities of reconciling communities. This is my Good Friday Appeal and Easter wish to my friends in Sri Lanka.
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