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Letters


Appreciations

Fr Kingsley Jayamanne
Refined man of culture and faith
Many have already written about Fr Kingsley who, as a priest of the Archdiocese of Colombo, held several prestigious and not-so-prestigious positions in the Church. I wish to give some random impressions on him as gathered during our seminary life together at the Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide in Rome, where he was ordained a priest in December 1964.

He was already there when I arrived in 1961 in Rome. He was one year senior to me and during his entire stay there, he was by far the most respected Sri Lankan student among us who were thirteen at the time in the Sri Lankan community.

It was the summer vacation of September 1961 when I arrived in Rome from Naples ( by train) with Patrick Olivelle (a brilliant student who later did post-graduate work at Oxford and who subsequently left the priesthood but became a professional and much esteemed contributor to international Philosophy journals - now living somewhere in the United States, probably Texas). All the college students were at the summer villa at Castelgandolfo adjoining the Papal summer residence, where there was a swimming pool and other holiday facilities. There was the huge, picturesque lake Albano on the other side of the road where students went fishing. The Sri Lankans went cooking under the pretext of fishing!

Fr Kingsley came to Rome on our arrival and took us on our first visit to St Peter’s Basilica before accompanying us by train to the Castelgandolfo villa where the Sri Lankan community had prepared a sumptuous rice and curry meal - our first taste of Sri Lankan food after spending two weeks in a liner from Colombo to Naples and one week in Naples at the Jesuit House. Sri Lankans were known for their cooking of tasty dishes which even the Australians came to relish and begged almost for “left-overs” from our frequent cooking sessions.

Fr Jaya - as Kingsley Jayamanne was known to everyone at Propaganda College, was at the zenith of respect enjoyed by the Sri Lankan community, known mainly for cooking, music and general versatility. Jaya was reputed for his intellectual brilliance (not merely academic), his well-rounded personality and his wide knowledge of science, literature, theology and the arts: a rare versatility indeed. He was well-read in every imaginable area and a great fan of Cardinal Newman’s life and writings. Although a science graduate from Colombo University, he was all-embracing in his interests. As a person he was urbane, cultured, soft-spoken, expressing considered opinions in refined, unaggressive language. He graced the student and Sri Lankan community with a marked, dignified decency.

He was of a very gentle demeanour, but of firm convictions, fearlessly expressed. The English, American and Australian students were amazed at his command of the English language, his maturity and his decorum. They couldn’t figure out how an Asian could beat them in their own language. The Sri Lankans were generally reputed for their good English and clear diction. He was a great connoisseur of western music, while being well-versed in Sinhala music and Sri Lanka history and culture. When we sang on festivals in the chapel or refectory (the college choir was 70-strong, representing at least 40 countries and directed by an Italian priest-maestro of St Cecilia’s Academy fame), Fr Jaya was particularly appreciative of our rendition of operatic arias from Verdi’s La Traviato and Il Trovatore and compositions of Rossini (La Speranza La Carita). It was indeed a compliment to be congratulated by him because he was a modest man of culture not given to flattery or exaggeration but a sincere expression of refined tastes.

Together with Fr(Dr) Mervyn Fernando (of Subodhi Integral Education and Astronomy fame, then doing a post-graduate course in Canon Law, residing at St Peter’s post-graduate college in Rome), he was an official stenographer at the Vatican Council II and a sort of secretary to Cardinal Cooray, Archbishop of Colombo. Thomas Cooray was made a Cardinal by Pope Paul VI during the Council. It was, mainly, a recognition of his commitment to hard work in the preparatory committees that vetted documents and agendas for the Council general sessions. They said, he was one of the few Council Fathers who attended nearly all the preparatory sessions. We knew this, because of his frequent visits to Rome during the Council. With him was also the first African Cardinal-Rugambwa from Tanzania, if I remember right.

We owed to Frs Mervyn and Kingsley our Council information and jokes especially about over-cautious Cardinals Ottaviani, Ruffini and Simi who thought the Council a kind of declaration of war on the existing forms. Pope John had referred to ‘ prophets of doom’ sceptical of the Council’s outcome. Those were heady days in more sense than one. New insights into dogma and ecclesiology were given to us, students by famous personalities like Karl Rahner and Hans Kung, who as Council experts were invited to address the students hungry for Council developments and gossip.

What kind of man Pope John XXIII was, can be gauged from his twice sending casks of beer for the college students through his much-loved Secretary Mgr. Loris Capovilla. He brought it to us with the love and compliments of the Pope who had received the best Bavarian beer from ‘good friends in Germany’. Both Popes John and Paul VI regarded Propaganda Fide College as their own college because so many nations of the world were represented there. The Roman diocese and Papal diplomatic colleges (so much favoured by Pius XII) took second place, arousing the envy and sometimes resentment of Roman circles. I digress, in a way, but this was the atmosphere which nourished Fr Kingsley’s priesthood which he eventually received in December 1964, one year before the Council closed in December 1965.

Throughout his many assignments in Sri Lanka on his return, he became known for essentially what he was: a man of God, of culture, of refinement, finesse and sensitivity. One wouldn’t usually associate such wide-ranging qualities with a science man generally with limited vision. In his knowledge, he was a humble man of faith. He was respected and looked up to as Rector of St Aloysius’ Junior Seminary. As acting Rector of St Peter’s College, he was appreciated for his quiet efficiency and sense of justice by students, teachers and Old Boys. In administration at the Archbishop’s House, which he reluctantly accepted more in obedience than in elation, he was trusted and consulted by bishops and priests. He made no bones about it when he wished to quit administration and revert to the role of a simple parish priest. In terms of success and promotion, he could very well have had a prestigious parish, but he asked for a small one. So, he came to St Anthony’s, Galkissa where the people revered him for his sincere ways and his penetrative but down-to-earth, to-the-point sermons. It was from there that he retired due to ill-health.

Only a man of faith could have borne the suffering he endured in his last years. There have been priests, intellectual giants of great fame and culture who found being ill and dying, a challenge to their faith. The greatest tribute one can pay to a man in the end is that he knows how to live and how to die with grace and dignity. The illness and death of such a man isn’t a tragedy, but a luminous witness to faith and hope. John Donne in one of his poems writes:

“Any man’s death diminishes me”.
No doubt we feel impoverished by his passing, because he is not among us to inspire us, visibly and tangibly. But his death is ultimately a gain for him and for us too, because he has reached, as we believe, his ultimate destiny: the goal that all of us pilgrims on this earth look to with hope.
‘Jaya’ had a weak stomach all his life. He had to eat bland food wherever he went. Even in Rome it bothered him, but it didn’t make him moody and unpredictable. Perhaps it prepared him for greater health challenges in his later years. The dignity and endurance of his final years are an inspiration to all of us. He couldn’t express himself in speech but had to write on a slate or paper what he wished to say. In his darkness, he knew Christ’s light and presence. To us, who live in the best way we can in our twilight years, he is a beacon of hope, love and courage. Well may he have comforted himself in the end with the words of Cardinal Newman whom he so much cherished:

“Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead thou me on
The night is dark and I am far from home
Lead thou me on
Keep thou my feet: I do not ask to see
The distant scene: one step enough for me...............

So long thy power has blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile”

Rev Fr Claver Perera

 

Deepavali Festival
Central theme of Deepavali festival live ‘n peace
Emphasises oneness, brotherhood unable to achieve with carefree ease
It reflects homogeneity of thought a great force unifying
It brings mankind together, significant differences shedding.

For thousands of years celebrated by Hindu population
Meritorious really spiritual humble celebration
Marks the defeat of darkness over ignorance in dedication
In Hindu household entrances bright light lit to deities in deep veneration.

Awakening of knowledge in ignorant man immersed in dire misery
The garland of lights indicate light brought into lives of suffering in utter misery
Performed in every Hindu home the oil bath a sacred ritual
In the courtyard of homes colourful kolams designed traditional.

May every Hindu pray on this day for divine light to free them from all evil
To lead them on Path of Truth bring among mankind dear goodwill
This festival reminds us, hatred tends to dry springs of love ‘n peace
Hatred will never cease by hatred, but ceases by love alone with ease.

Hatred disturbs the equilibrium ‘n breeds fanaticism
‘Whatever you love you’re its master, whatever you hate you’re its slave’ sans criticism
Let love ’n compassion rule on earth, on humanity on this day
Deepavali emphasise togetherness of society without a say.

Let festival of amazing twinkling lights
Light the sullen hearts of mankind in bitter plight
May their suffering darkness of eternal gloom
With Divine Light of Spiritual Liberty forever bloom.

By Kumari Kumarasinghe Tennakoon

 

15th death anniversary of Gamini Dissanayake
Charismatic politician with a vision
October 23, 2009 marks the 15th death anniversary of the charismatic, caring and extraordinary politician, the late Gamini Dissanayake, who was assassinated along with many other UNP stalwarts by a LTTE suicide bomber, just before the conclusion of a Presidential election campaign meeting at Thotalanga. His tragic death shattered all hopes and thwarted people’s dream of their leader becoming the President, with the elections just over two weeks away. It was an irreparable loss to the whole nation, as during his 24-year tenure of service in active politics, he had achieved more than a lifetime’s worth of milestones, goals and accomplishments in development and cricket, very much more than any other politician had achieved in the annals of our history.

He was born on March 20, 1942 in Kotmale to his parents, Andrew Dissanayake and Welagedera Samaratunga Kumarihamy and he was one among seven children in the family. His basic values from childhood were cultivated initially in the rural environment and social surroundings of Kotmale. He was educated at Trinity College, Kandy. Although his parents’ ambition was to make him an Accountant, he pursued a career in Law. He joined the Law College and became an Advocate, took oaths in 1966 and later became a President’s Counsel, and practised as a lawyer.

Having drawn inspiration from famous leaders like D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and J.R. Jayewardena, he gave up his lucrative practice as a lawyer and entered politics in 1970, becoming an M.P. almost immediately, before he was unseated by an election petition. He was re-elected to the Nuwara-Eliya/Maskeliya seat in a by-election held in 1972. As a young and energetic politician and the people’s representative in the Nuwara-Eliya district, he extended yeoman service to all constituents with devotion, commitment and sheer dedication. It would be difficult to find another single politician in the annals of history of Sri Lanka, who was so highly acclaimed and held in high esteem by his colleagues and equally respected by his opponents, particularly due to his impartial attitude.

He was a unique and extraordinary politician who listened to the masses, solved their problems. Anyone who was keen on meeting him had very easy access. He never engaged in petty, diverse and partisan politics. He was ever willing to have sensible debates. He possessed a very clear, dynamic vision. He was a noble human being who possessed a powerful and a very pleasing personality, full of compassion. His humility and friendly disposition endeared him to win the hearts of a large cross-section of friends. For people’s needs and requests he immediately placed people at ease. He never differentiated between the rich and the poor and his hospitality to a poor constituent, or a rich friend was equal. The treatment meted out was alike, with malice to none and charity to all.

He was an excellent orator who spoke sense, keeping his audiences spellbound. His orations were mesmerising, his language was dulcet, voice rich and impeccable. He was a vociferous reader and was well versed with a veritable gold mine of information. In any forum locally or internationally he was acclaimed as an outstanding debater. President J.R.Jayewardena on many occasions defended the government in Parliament using Gamini as his main speaker. The firm foundation built and the confidence gained from the people of the electorate, in particular, helped in his stride to nurture and mature as an ideal politician. When the United National Party came into power in the year 1977, he was entrusted with many ministerial portfolios, monumental goals and tasks during the tenure of the government. The ministerial portfolios entrusted to him were Irrigation, Power, Construction, Lands, Land Development, Mahaweli, Plantation Industries and Highways. The late Gamimi Dissanayake once confessed that the word ‘development’ meant developing of infrastructure and the end result of ‘development’ is uplifting of the living standards of the masses.

The most gigantic task he confronted was, of course, the historical accelerated Mahaweli Project. The toughest challenge in its implementation was the evacuation of approximately 3,000 families from over 50 villages, who lived in the valley of the Kotmale reservoir. This also included about 15 places of religious worship. The late leader too sacrificed his ancestral lands. Those villagers were forced to leave their traditional homes for unfamiliar environments. The Kotmale reservoir was one among other reservoirs, Victoria, Randenigala, Rantembe, Ulhitiya, Rahkinda and Maduruoya which were built and commissioned under the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme. This multipurpose diversion scheme also included the amalgamation of several canals and waterways. This massive Mahaweli scheme, with foreign collaboration, was manned by efficient personnel deployed both locally and internationally, using innovative modern technology under the close scrutiny of this great leader.

The gigantic exercise was initially, targeted to be completed in 30 years. However, due to his enormous skill, the charismatic approach and untiring leadership, it was completed in an unbelievably short period of just seven years. The Kotmale reservoir was commissioned on August 24, 1985, fulfilling a dream of the late Gamini Dissanayake. Those who sacrificed lands have now settled and are living freely and independently, having had their basic needs fulfilled like jobs, shelter and food, while making maximum use of the golden waters of the reservoir for their agricultural needs. The speech he delivered on that day was emotional and fascinating. While paying great tribute to those who sacrificed lands engulfed in the reservoir, he emphasised that it was made in the national interest with a view towards a definite development revolution. He said, “I believe the agony and the pain of mind the people of Kotmale and my relatives suffered as a result of the loss of ancestral lands will be compensated when they witness the great benefits that this project will bring to the next generation.”

As a gesture of national gratitude, on April 11, 2003 the ‘Kotmale Reservoir’ was appropriately renamed as the ‘Gamini Dissanayke Reservoir’ by unveiling his statue at a glittering ceremony presided over by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. This event became more significant, as it took place at a time when the farmers were blessed with a bumper paddy harvest that they had been deprived of for a long period of time. The 14th death anniversary of Gamini was commemorated at the vicinity of the statue erected in Kadadora, Kotmale on October 19, 2008.

The efforts of the late Gamini Dissanayake, while holding several ministerial portfolios other than the Mahaweli project, have helped immensely to uplift to a large extent the basic living standards, especially of the average citizen and made a tremendous impact on the economic revival of the country, which is no exaggeration. Besides being actively engaged in our development process, he found the time to be actively involved in the game of cricket; having held office as the President of the Board of Control of Cricket in Sri Lanka, BCCSL (now known as Sri Lanka Cricket) from June 1981 to June 1989 and thereafter, for a brief period of four months, immediately prior to his tragic death in 1994; during which period he made many significant contributions. During his tenure Sri Lanka succeeded in obtaining full membership of the ICC to play Test cricket. In order to achieve this he changed the infrastructure of cricket, which remained unchanged for years. He set new trends and standards in conducting the activities of the then board. He inaugurated the Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation and was adamant that at any cost he was obtaining full ICC Test status with full membership.

He then embarked on a programme of work with a vision to achieve what he felt was best for Sri Lankan cricket. This included the construction of a building to house the Headquarters of cricket at Maitland Place, construction of modern indoor net facilities, development and elevating the Asgiriya cricket grounds to international standards and other grounds at provincial venues to play international and domestic cricket, inaugurated a programme to send young cricketers for training overseas, launched a cricketers’ benevolent fund and commenced intensive training for umpires, coaches and curators etc.

This achievement was even more remarkable in the context that he held office as the President of the then Board, only for a couple of months. After doing all the spadework, it was very unfortunate that he could not live when Sri Lanka won the plum of world cricket, the Wills Word Cup in 1996, only 17 months after his tragic demise.
At the conclusion of the 9th edition of the Asia Cup in July 2008, staged in Karachi, the late Gamini Dissanayake who was chiefly instrumental in our achieving full Test status was presented with a lifetime award by the Asian Cricket Council, as he was a pioneer member who formulated the concept of the Asian Cricket Council. Mrs. Srima Dissanayake the Chairperson of the Gamini Dissanayake Foundation and her son Navin Dissanayake, the present Minister of Investment Promotion, collected the award from the CEO of the Asian Cricket Council, Ashraful-ul-Haq

It is pertinent to mention that the Gamini Dissanayake Foundation, in keeping with the vision of the late leader, has already set up the Gamini Dissanayake Institute of Technology and Vocational Studies in Kandy to provide vocational training skills for the less privileged children, using innovative and modern technology. So many youth from the Central and Uva Provinces have immensely benefited from following various fields and many have found employment through the skills they have learnt.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

Sunil Thenabadu
Mount Lavinia

 

A tribute
Venerable Walathare Suboothi Thero
Venerable Walathare Suboothi Thero, the principal of WP/KL Bandaranaike Maha Vidyalaya at Payagala after completing nearly 30 years of distinguished service in educational sphere as a scholar monk retired recently.
This reverend priest is an honours graduate of the Sri Jayewardanapura University and an erudite monk in Pali and Sanskrit languages.

His first appointment was in the year 1982 to R/B Balangoda Siri Piyarathana Vidyalaya as a teacher and subsequently he was promoted as principal in the same school. He served 16 years there until his transfer to the WP/KL Panadura Rajakeeya Vidyalaya in the year 1998.
Later he was transferred to WP/KL Bandaranaike Maha Vidyala at Payagala and till his retirement he rendered a yeoman service to the students irrespective of their social status or religion amidst this densely populated Catholic area.

At present, being the chief incumbent of Beruwala Walthara Purana Viharaya the monk devotes much of his time to promote national unity and racial harmony among the Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese who live in this multi-member electorate. Besides, this Buddhist monk is very often an indispensable mentor and orator to the Catholic community in the area.
As a past pupil of Bandaranaike Maha Vidyalaya at Payagala, I pay my humble tribute to the reverend and wish him longevity.

 

 

 

 

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