National inter-religious symposium



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The National Inter-Religious Symposium was held at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies on Thursday 23 November. Inter Religious Dialogue Committees function in sixteen districts and in nine of them Buddhist clergy presently head the groups giving them leadership. In others too, they participate actively with the Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious and lay leaders.


Initiating the day’s proceedings, Dr. Joe William, President of the Sri Lanka National Peace Council, said the main focus of the District Inter Religious Committees was to bring about a political settlement, public transformation, reconciliation, link between and within communities and to build peace. There are roles at grass-roots level, such as promoting voluntary dialogue and bringing about cultural understanding among religious leaders and among the people of different communities. There should be advocacy for peace and dialogue to end violence, bring about internal solidarity in the midst of religious leaders establishing constructive relationships between faiths. If religious leaders together operate under shared values, their actions would be effective.


William concluded quoting the Swiss Catholic Theologian Prof. Hans Kung: "There would be no peace in the world without peace among religions. There would be no peace among religions without interreligious dialogue."


In the Reports of the District Inter Religious Committees, they observed that: 1. We jointly won Independence. Without giving peace and independence to others, one cannot have independence and peace. Even animals and plants need independence; the plants strive their way independently towards the light of the sun.


One cannot injure or harass others, according to religion. (Panadipatha veramanni sikka… Thou shall not murder...)


We try to do everything according to religion; but do not live according to religion. Everyone should act according to the vision of one’s religion. The more we come closer, peace comes closer.


2. Problems still arise. We need to face them. We appeal for the liberty of persons. We should overcome misunderstanding over small matters. The Inter Religious Peace Council goes to the place when needed and solves the problem.


3. In a place where in 1974 Tamils lived with Sinhala and Muslim families – about 350 families in all – there is a mosque. A small conflict on a sports day would have been overblown if not for the intervention of inter-religious peace persons…On 2015 New Year, we had an exchange of gifts. Religious Leaders got together; we have organized and done shramadana at the Temple, Kovil and Church.


4. After 1956, Tamil people met with several problems. We agreed to hold discussions among ourselves (Sinhala and Tamil people). We spoke to school children about religions, peace, and inter-religious dialogue. We printed and distributed handbills. We are building unity, particularly through inter-religious dialogue.


When a problem arose in a school, the Buddhist monks, Catholic priest, Moulavi and Kurukkal met with the Principal and brought about reconciliation after a problem arose. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians are building peace; we have worked together before and after the war.


5. We endured floods, dengue epidemic, leprosy and, in the circumstances we faced, we have done for each other what we could.


We have had inter-religious demonstrations with the mothers of those who disappeared. Government has the duty of doing justice to the people regarding the lives of those who have disappeared.


6. There is a solidarity among the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians that needs to be awakened. When that is done, it could lead to national unity…We need to spread the knowledge of inter-religious dialogue and solidarity and publicize it to reduce misunderstanding. Even a small unfortunate incident sometimes leads to uncontrolled emotional reactions in a community.


7. Our community had a problem over a cemetery due to those unable to pay their dues. Together we managed to solve the problem. On World Peace Day, We had a two-hour peace walk from the Kovil to the Urban Council, in which all religious leaders took part with also the Police, District Council Representatives and Government officials. It was with slogans on placards to awaken the people. It was not against the government, but to urge it to take appropriate steps in that regard.


8. Problems have arisen due to the spreading of prejudicial views. With the blessing of the Viharadhipathi and the Bishop, we of the District Inter-religious Committee organized and had a Peace Walk.


9. Anarchists spread prejudices and begin conflicts over religion. We give an understanding of religions to school children so that no one may be considered high or low. Education authorities have appreciated our efforts, agreeing that solidarity is essential. Emphasizing that we are all Sri Lankans, religious leaders, enlightened all on solidarity and reconciliation and school children have been getting together.


Minister Mano Ganeshan who came to address the Symposium was given a set of proposals on reconciliation by the Representatives of the Inter-religious Dialogue Committees. He said: "This symposium is very important. Those of you who are in solidarity, peace and unity are not losing, but are succeeding. The National Question is there and it is on the way to being resolved. There is no national tension, religious or racial. There was an unfortunate incident in Galle. Though from time to time there arise some problems, we are in a far better situation than we were ever before.


The media should promote inter-community and inter-religious dialogue; and ministers should listen to the media. In Sri Lanka, extreme nationalists and anarchists should not be shown as the majority. In Breaking News, anarchy and racial news are given as news supported by the majority. But we are still Sri Lankans. We are torchbearers of a national project; we have come forward because democratic people came together to uphold the rule of law and religious solidarity, and to bring justice to those who have been deprived of it. Truth cannot be forever defeated; truth will finally triumph.


Making a New Constitution is a work of the whole Country. There should be social protection of the multi-cultural, multi-racial polity. Sinhala and Tamil are official and national languages; English is a link language. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are four religions in Sri Lanka and here there are nineteen racial strains. There is much diversity in our Land. We should not destroy the spirit of religious reconciliation. Therefore, we should not fight over religion nor over nationality. Let us observe and celebrate National Religious Solidarity on December 12th.


After the Minister’s speech, a member of the Buddhist clergy said, "The wounds inflicted on our society, so very much present in the midst of our society could become big if we do not heal it together".


Concluding the Symposium Dr. Jehan Perera, Executive Director of the National Peace Council said: "We have been working together for ten years. Also, due to our contribution, the situation of the Country has come to a satisfactory state. The High Commissioner of Great Britain has accepted our contribution as valid. And so have the UN Peace Building Commission, with the Ambassadors of the United States of America, Europe, China, Russia and others. Over a TV intervention with the UN, I said, I am representing the civil society though civil society is varied. I am representing the reconciliation sector. We are free today. We feared bombs during the war. We feared ‘white vans’ during the last government. Today we are governed by the two main parties. There is a certain agreement and consensus. We need a new consensus through a New Constitution agreed to by all the people. There should be agreement regarding the solution to the National Question and we need economic development.


FR. AUGUSTINE FERNANDO


Diocese of Badulla.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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