A Buddhist monk’s challenge to clergy of all religions – Commentary, Hector Welgampola

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays respect to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero - Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays his last respects to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero – Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

“…grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement…” – Hector Welgampola

2015 was a momentous year in the history of Sri Lanka. It began with a decisive presidential election followed by a significant parliamentary election. The polls led to an unlikely merging of two political teams led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. They were welcomed as implementers of a reform agenda pioneered by a charismatic Buddhist monk– Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero.

Soon after facilitating such triumph of people power, the king-maker withdrew to his temple, thus providing space and time for the new leaders to implement the program of Good Governance championed by him. However, like émigré who forgot nothing and learned nothing from the French Revolution, many political vermin of all parties lost no time in an eager rush for perks and privileges. While the frustrated prelate was contemplating the next move of his prophetic mission, he fell ill and died, a virtual white martyr in a campaign for social justice.

The new rulers hastened to give a State funeral to the venerable thero whose untimely death is mourned by the entire Nation. Even the Catholic Church held a Nov. 23 memorial in his honor. Eulogizing the prelate’s prophetic self-giving, his close collaborator Father Reid Shelton Fernando reportedly compared the prelate to Prophet Jeremiah. It was an appeal for further pursuit of the prelate’s prophetic commitment of witness to social justice. No doubt a tall order for puny politicians!

The politically dissipated new rulers too have rushed in to recommit to Venerable Sobhitha’s agenda, though emphasis seems to be more on constitutional reform and less on wiping out the endemic cancer of corruption. The Western-style perception of reform as political tinkering has been deep rooted in the psyche of the country’s political establishment. Unfortunately, the momentary dazzle of such political tinsel has often anesthetized the public and distracted their yearning for a moral ethic in politics: a weakness that has riddled the country for centuries.

By coincidence, this year also marks the bicentenary of the political cataclysm of 1815, which has been innocuously recorded as the year when the British completed their capture of then Ceylon. Until recent times, little was spoken of the local political establishment’s connivance in that transfer of power to the colonizers. Much less was highlighted about the polity’s spontaneous protest symbolized by a Buddhist monk courageous enough to rise against the aristocracy’s surrender of a Nation’s self-respect. History records how he pulled down the British flag and re-hoisted the flag of the country’s last independent kingdom.

Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Thero’s action on behalf of his Nation was the symbolic launch of a people’s political protest that kept struggling in varied forms to survive for over a century. His 1815 protest surfaced and resurfaced in the form of popular riots, rebellions and uprisings in 1818, 1848, 1912 onward. Ultimately, such protests in the public square were hijacked by new rich urban elite seeking respectability of a tame path of constitutional reform to the delight of their colonial masters. 

That contrived process climaxed in the British-style dominion status leading to political independence in 1947. Just as the Nation’s cause of selfhood was nobly pioneered by generations of Buddhist clergy, its blossoming into a popular movement was thwarted by the money-culture- addicted business elite striving to emasculate it into a tool of economic dominance and political control. And from the early years of political independence, the parliamentary system became a forum to entrench family power, and share political spoils based on subtle racist and casteist criteria. That led in no small measure to the uprisings of the post-independence period. We do not need to go down that path again.

This bi-centenary year of the 1815 political upheaval has begun to be marked by still newer waves of constitutional pyrotechnics to divert the Nation’s need for moral reawakening and elimination of corruption at all levels. Political lobbies have proved themselves impotent in fulfilling that momentum perceived by Sobhitha Thero as a prophetic mission. It was part of a grassroots-level spiritual mission nurtured by generations of non-hierarchical Buddhist clergy including more recent plebian-allied prelates such as Venerable Heenatiyana Dhammaloka Thero, Venerable Yakkaduwe Pragnarama Thero and Venerable Siri Seevli Thero.

If that mission of apolitical social engagement is not to be frittered away, grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Carry on goal to protect minorities’ freedom, punish perpetrators – US commission to Sri Lanka gov’t.

Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

A US delegation, which visited Sri Lanka to assess the climate for religious freedom, other human rights, and tolerance, have noted progress on the issues in Sri Lanka since the country’s 2015 election. It cited the importance of punishing perpetrators of attacks and stopping harassment of religious groups trying to build houses of worship.

Commissioner Eric P. Schwartz of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said he met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, Minister of Buddha Sasana Karu Jayasuriya, and Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs Abdel Halim Mohamed Hasheem, as well as representatives from Sri Lanka’s diverse religious communities during the March 15-17 visit.

“We are encouraged by statements made by officials with whom we met,” Schwartz said in a statement posted on the commission’s website.

He cited  among “welcome” developments comments he heard supporting national reconciliation among all Sri Lanka’s religious and ethnic communities. 

“After a devastating war and reports that religious minority communities were increasingly subjected to attacks in recent years, the new government’s engagement with religious minorities is an important step forward in the effort to promote national unity and increased space for all religious groups,” the commissioner pointed out.

He also cited government’s measures in the areas of freedom of expression and association noting these “tend to create a climate conducive to religious freedom.”

Buddhism is the official religion in the country where Buddhists reportedly comprise more than 69 percent of the 21.87 million people. Most of the rest are Muslims (7.6 percent) or Hindu (7.1 percent). Christians make up about 6.2 percent of the population.

Expressing pleasure in hearing that reports of abuses against minority religious communities have diminished over the last few months, Schwartz encouraged the government to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable. “We believe accountability will encourage a critical sense of security and well-being among affected communities,” he stressed.

He also said representatives of civil society at meetings reported “continued concerns about the ability of religious communities to practice their chosen faiths without restriction,” citing experiences of intimidation or harassment when trying to build houses of worship. 

“We hope and trust Sri Lankan officials will address these issues in the weeks and months to come,” Schwartz said.

The U.S. Congress created USCIRF in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) as an independent, bipartisan, federal government entity to monitor the status of freedom of religion or belief abroad and provide policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Maithripala Sirisena won as president in the Jan. 8 polls set by incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the latter’s bid to seek a third term. Sirisena has pledged to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of being elected, and repeal the controversial eighteenth amendment and restore the 17th amendment that limits the president’s rule to two terms and sets other restraints on the presidency.

 

Young Filipino artists gear up for pope’s encyclical on climate with campus ‘wall’

Wall of Good Life 3 by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

Contributed photo:A section of the Wall of Good Life mural at University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR.

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines (Catholic In Asia) – Young local artists’ colorful paintings of trees, earth and other nature themes brighten up a wall of a central Philippines university run by Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR) who have committed to raise the awareness and strengthen the responsibility of the school community to care for the earth.

“Wall of Good Life” project of DIHON group of artists intends “to raise social & ecological awareness among students and members of the school community, and in a way to prepare for the upcoming encyclical of the Pope on ecology,” OAR Brother Jaazeal Jakosalem told Catholic in Asia.

Wall of Good Life 9 Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

Contributed photo of Wall of Good Life mural at University of Negros Occidental – Recoletos by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR.

In March 2014 Pope Francis reportedly spoke of his concern for the environment during an audience in the Vatican with superiors from the Franciscan order whose advice he was said to have sought. The pope by then had spent months drafting his new encyclical on Creation, and respect for the environment, Rome Reports news service reported.

 Word spread that the pope would possibly release the encyclical in Tacloban City last Jan. 17 when he was to visit survivors of 2013’s “super typhoon” Yolanda (Haiyan), but Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila when asked at a forum organized by Inquirer media group ahead of the visit replied that Pope Francis would like to make sure all questions and contentious issues related to climate change are studied well before he releases a document.

“I do not want a papal encyclical being accused of spreading false data or data that are not yet verified even by scientists,” Cardinal Tagle quoted a remark he said he had heard the pope make to journalists. “I’m sure you all know that as we talk about climate change there is also a big group saying there is no climate change, and that is present even within the Church,” Cardinal Tagle told the Inquirer-organized public forum in Manila.

However, Pope Francis in an in-flight interview from Sri Lanka to Manila in January was also quoted saying he was convinced that global warming was “mostly” man-made and that man had “slapped nature in the face”. He expressed the hope that the upcoming Vatican encyclical – the most authoritative documents a pope can issue – on the environment, would encourage negotiators at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris Nov. 30-Dec. 11  to make courageous decisions to protect God’s creation, the report on The Guardian’s online newspaper said.

Contributed Photo: Jamilio Bayoneta and young artists of DIHON by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR.

Contributed Photo: Jamilo Bayoneta (in black) and young artists of DIHON by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR.

 Meanwhile, Bacolod diocese’s young artists, led by Jamilo Bayoneta have gone ahead with their awareness-raising project to paint University of Negros’ Wall of Good Life from Feb. 15-March 15. Students from elementary through college and Brother Jakosalem, himself an artist and mentor of the group, joined painting sessions.

Wall of Good Life by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

Wall of Good Life 8 Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

Contributed Photos: Wall of Good Life by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR
updated March 17, 10:38 pm (Manila)

Manila archdiocese assembly studies climate change, Lenten fasting movement

Yeb Sano, YouTube video

Yeb Sano, YouTube video  click photo to view

Manila archdiocese’s Ministry on Ecology has organized an orientation session, March 11, on the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Call to Fast for climate during Lent.

In the invitation to media, Ministry Coordinator Lou Valencia Arsenio expressed alarm over reported risks the Philippines faces due to climate change. Arsenio said results of the recent study of risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft is “alarming because the global temperature is … feared to increase up to 2-4 degrees centigrade before the end of this century.” 

The study found that eight of 10 cities most exposed to natural hazards are in the Philippines. Overall fourth are Metro Manila, Tuguegarao in Cagayan province, and Lucena in Quezon province. The study also shows that out of 100 cities with greatest exposure to natural hazards, 21 are in the Philippines, 16 in China, 11 in Japan and eight in Bangladesh.

Arsenio said these hazards are triggered by climate change and that scientists foresee the situation will worsen over the years if critical gas emission remains uncontrolled. “Very large amounts of methane gas are now being released with the massive melting of the ice caps especially in the Antarctica,” Arsenio said.

While many “well-meaning” and industry independent organizations, individuals, scientists, and members of faith groups have been advocating for decades for drastic and decisive decisions among governments to stop the ongoing rising of global temperature, the conference of parties held in various places discussing a solution to climate change remains very political because “industrialized countries do not like to give up their wasteful and luxurious lifestyle especially with the dictates of aggressive and destructive industries,” Arsenio said. 

 NJ Viehland Photos

Fr. Edwin Gariguez of CBCP-NASSA, second from right, at the launch of Climate Walk 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

Meanwhile, there seems to be lack of a solid Catholic voice in this debate, the ministry coordinator said. The March 11 orientation at the Manila chancery (Arzobispado) will be conducted by Columban priest Fr. John Leydon, a long-time missionary to the Philippines, and Commissioner Yeb Sano of the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines 

The two resource persons represent the Philippines in the Global Catholic Climate Movement composed mostly of lay Catholics with few religious and priests, Manila’s ecology ministry coordinator said.

Aside from explaining in depth the objectives and bases for the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Call to Fast for the Climate, the resource persons will also update participants on concerns and conditions related to climate change ahead of the next United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change meetings beginning in August.

 

 

In India – Free speech vs. women’s safety [reblog]

Source Saudi Gazette (Editorial)
India is no stranger to violence against women, including domestic and sexual violence. In the capital city of New Delhi, sexual assaults against women take place every day and very often ends in rape.

Full article Free speech vs. women’s safety.

“Free detained women, punish torturers” – rights NGO

SFIC,NJ Viehland

Agta women and children at Commission on Human Rights dialogue in Manila. NJ Viehland Photos

Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) has called for the immediate release of the two indigenous Agta women that a Department of Justice resolution said were illegally arrested, immediate implementation justice Secretary Leila De Lima’s order for a reinvestigation of the arrest, detention and alleged psychological torture of the women living in the northern Philippine Prelature of Infanta.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in January said the arrest of Marites Marquez, 43, and her cousin, Rosario Loreto, 37, was illegal because of procedural lapses, including the absence of a warrant.

Policemen and soldiers arrested Marquez and Loreto of the Agta community working with the prelature’s apostolate to indigenous people in the Sierra Madre mountains in Quezon province last September, shortly after the New People’s Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines abducted a retired army soldier in the province.

Fr Pete Montallana OFM FB photo

A copy of the DOJ order given to the Inquirer by Fr. Pete Montallana, Infanta prelature’s apostolate coordinator showed De Lima ordered on Jan. 7  the “complete record” of the arrest of the two Agta women “returned to the office of origin for the conduct of a reinvestigation in light of the illegality of the arrests of the respondents

 TFDP is a mission partner of the Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), a voluntary association of heads of some 400 congregations and groups of consecrated men and women serving in the Philippines, former association Executive Secretary Father Marlon Lacal of the Order of Carmelites Philippines told Catholic in Asia.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Put an end to the fossil fuel era,’ say bishops at climate conference

Marikina, NJ Viehland

Flooding in Marikina City during Habagat / NJ Viehland photos

A group of bishops attending an international climate-change conference in Peru called upon the international community “to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degree Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels, in order to protect frontline communities suffering from the impacts of climate change.”

“Central to this is to put an end to the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions and phasing in 100% renewables with sustainable energy access for all,” the bishops said.

X FABC group picture

Xth FABC Plenary Assembly, Dec. 2012, Xuan Loc, Vietnam / NJ Viehland Photos

The nine bishops include representatives of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM), the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), and the French and Brazilian bishops’ conferences.

“We express…

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