Multi-religious serenity should usher in political sanity

In our multi-religious island, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians mark three important religious festivals-- Hajj, Unduwap Poya and Christmas-- within the space of a week while our Hindu brethren, in three weeks, will celebrate Thai Pongal, the feast of the sun, the harbinger of a plentiful harvest.

The sun feast should ideally be celebrated today (December 23) the day after the northern solstice, but Hindu astrologers have fixed the day to coincide with January 14, the first day of the auspicious month of Thai.

Home to four great religions of the world, Sri Lanka should ideally be a shining example of peace and unity and the prosperity that follows, to the rest of world. Despite all four religions enunciating peace and unity, these two values have eluded the country that is fractured and divided in all spheres. The failure to resolve the ethnic conflict has led to the separatist war that has bled the nation.

While the separatist war must be defeated, a just and lasting solution should simultaneously be found to the ethnic conflict that has dogged the nation, depriving it of the prosperity it deserves. A whole hapless and helpless generation has lived through the war and we hope the leaders would not bequeath the scourge to the next.

Today is Unduwap Poya and on this day we commemorate the arrival of Arahant Sanghamitta Theri in Sri Lanka and the planting of a sapling from the southern bough of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, Gaya, India at the Maha Mevuna Park, Anuradhapura.

The Indian connection is further strengthened as it was her brother Arahant Mahinda who introduced Buddhism from India to Sri Lanka. Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has been appropriately invited to be the Chief Guest at Sri Lanka’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations on February 4, next year.

As the political column on the opposite page observes, the Indian Premier has agreed to grace the occasion provided the Government of Sri Lanka unveils a political package with reasonable devolution of power to the Tamil minority. The onus is on the government and the country would expect the All Party Conference appointed by the President to finalise the package in time.
“The aspiration of all those who participate in these Unduwap Full Moon Poya Day religious festivals should be the realisation of the good wishes of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, aimed at making Sri Lanka a peaceful and an economically developed country in the world protecting its people from all disastrous elements,” said the Chief Prelate of the Asgiriya Chapter, Ven. Nugethenne Pannananda Nayaka Thera.

He made this statement at the Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura, weeks after Mr. Rajapaksa assumed duties as President of Sri Lanka. Two years down the line, the APC is yet to unveil a political package. The Report of the Experts Panel of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) has formed the Discussion Document at the 50-odd APC meetings held so far. In the final lap, the country hopes a progressive and not regressive package is offered after negotiations spanned over 25 years.

The intransigence of the negotiating sides and the failure to compromise has been the main obstacles in finding a political solution. Currently, both sides have shunned negotiations and prefer war as an alternative.

The incessant battles in the predominantly Catholic District of Mannar have rendered thousands displaced. Humans have been dehumanised as they are herded together as cattle in refugee camps. For them, there is no stuffed turkey but Christmas in a cramped camp.

They are not alone in their suffering. Their Master was displaced at his birth when King Herod ordered the Massacre of the Innocents in a bid to kill the Christ Child.

Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ, biblically referred to as the Prince of Peace. The Nation’s plea is that the guns must go silent for Christmas and towards that end we call on both sides to put a halt to hostilities, at least temporarily.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference in a message to mark Christmas said, “There is no doubt that among all the worries and anxieties of the people of Sri Lanka today, the uppermost is the yearning for peace...”

Senior religious leaders from Sri Lanka and a high-level multi-religious delegation of the World Conference of Religions for Peace from six other countries (Cambodia, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States) met in Jaffna on December 12-13, 2007 for an Inter Religious Summit on Peace in Sri Lanka. The next meetings are scheduled to be held in Kandy and Trincomalee.

We salute the efforts of these religious leaders and urge a people’s uprising for peace. Swords must be turned into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks to gather a plentiful harvest before the diamond jubilee of independence.