Ward Par Excellence At Kalubowilla

Whole of last month Ward No. 33 of the Kalubowila Hospital became my second home as someone who is close to me was warded there for residential treatment. Right from the beginning of our initial encounter with the head of this institution, Professor Samudra Kastriarachchi we noticed a very professional approach coupled with a homely atmosphere to make all the patients comfortable and relaxed to start the healing process from their respective mental and physiological ailments.

I was delighted to learn that this particular institution came into being because of the tireless efforts of Professor Samudra Kastriarachchi and her team. Her committed team of consultants, medical doctors, nurses and the rest of the medical staff including counsellors etc. are sustaining this brainchild of Professor Kastriarachchi. It is noteworthy to observe the ways in which the staff speaks to the patients and their kith and kin winning their confidence that they are capable of facilitating the healing process of their friends and relations.  This staff is well trained to use body language, expressions etc. to encourage the patients and the concerned people to go through the time of anxiety that they are faced with. With my personal experience with hospitals of this nature in the county of Kent in the UK, I could notice how much planning has gone into creating this hospital very much parallel to the physiology of the above mentioned hospitals in the UK. Even the very building is very much similar to one of the hospitals in Kent.

I strongly believe that this sort of efforts should be appreciated and encouraged to get the best out of this team and to influence other medical institutions   to follow the good example sustained by these professionals.

Fr. Keerthisiri Fernando
Diocese of Colombo

Christmas in Sri Lanka

During Christmas, giving of gifts, putting up of Christmas trees, singing of Christmas carols and lighting of candles have been very prominent. Perhaps these traditions have become noticeable with the natural integration of these customs with the culture of Sri Lanka enriched by various religions

Fr Keerthisiri FERNANDO

In Sri Lanka, Christmas is called Nattal (most probably derived from the world Nattal). This word has come from the Portuguese who ruled the coastal areas of this island from 1505 to 1658 CE. This introduction of Christmas was enriched by the Dutch and the British who occupied this land from 1658 to 1796 and 1796 to 1948 respectively.

Today Christianity is known to the people of this land mainly through the celebration of Christmas. Just as in many other countries, in Sri Lanka, Christmas is commercialized, with Santa Claus or Father Christmas as the central figure.

However, in Sri Lanka, Christmas is a time of joy for the entire island. In the north and south of Colombo where there are Christian communities of fisher and carpentry respectively, Christmas is celebrated on a grand scale. All the urban Christians have subcultures and in those areas Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims and others who belong to various cultures and ethnicities and who also have created subcultures join in the celebration of Christmas with Christians.

During Christmas, giving of gifts, putting up of Christmas trees, singing of Christmas carols and lighting of candles have been very prominent. Perhaps these traditions have become noticeable with the natural integration of these customs with the culture of Sri Lanka enriched by various religions. Perhaps unconsciously, giving of gifts has become meaningful in the context of "merit making" which is very prominent in the popular culture pregnant with Buddhist and Hindu values.

In an environment where trees are respected and venerated, the Christmas tree has become meaningful by representing the vitality of Christmas.

This is enhanced with the lighting of candles, making it a festival of light along with the Hindu festival of Deepavali (which literally means a row of lights) and the Buddhist celebration of Vesak (celebration of the birth, enlightenment and passing away of The Buddha). In a surrounding of ritualistic elements such as chanting of Ghatha in Buddhism and singing of Bhajans in Hinduism, Christmas carols have become very popular and meaningful in Sri Lanka. In predominant Christian areas and in other urban regions there is an increasing trend for people of other faiths to be involved in singing Christmas carols.

This shows that beneath the popular and commercialized culture of Christmas or Nattal this festival of light and life has been rooted in Sri Lanka by going through a process of contextualization. Therefore, in the post civil war background of Sri Lanka it is the responsibility of the followers of Christ to enhance this process to make this festival an effective celebration of life-affirming and light-generating celebration to incarnate the Word in Sri Lanka.

Tsunami Reflections

Posted on: January 6, 2005 2:45 PM

Related Categories: nifcon

News and reflections on the events of 26th December 2005

NIFCON has been receiving and forwarding news of members, offers of help and details of inter faith responses to the disaster. We are humbled to be playing a small part in the world wide response. If you need more information please do contact the office as there is far too much to post here.

A great deal has been said and written but here are two theological reflections from NIFCON members.

The Tsunami Disaster and Human Suffering - a reflection

Following the tsunami disaster in South East Asia people have once again been asking the age old question; "why do innocent people suffer?" Despite all human advancement, this remains a question that cannot be answered with absolute certainty. Then how can we wrestle with this issue which the entire world faces regardless of the divisions of class, caste, religion and ethnicity etc? In this process our faith, philosophies, values, attitudes and other such qualities become vital.

Throughout history religions have been presenting ideas and philosophies to enable people to come to terms with the suffering they face in this world. Religions such as Hinduism have shown that one has to suffer because of the deeds or karma of previous births. Although Buddhists basically accept this theory, Buddha had indicated that there are other natural disasters, unrelated to any prior life, but which also affect humanity. Religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism have been assuring their believers that although these terrible events happen, God or the ultimate reality (deity perhaps) is in control of everything.

In the 21st century with the development of modern communications such as the Internet and email all religious philosophies are accessible to people in towns and villages thoughout the world. In this situation people without any formal religious learning are influenced by these old faiths. The assumption that only so called "religious people" are influenced by these beliefs and philosophies are further disproved by the ways in which followers of many religious philosophies (and none) have come together in bringing relief and consolation to victims of the recent tsunami disaster.

This huge outpouring of care and love for our fellow men regardless of religious beliefs and philosophies is a great inspiration to our apparently secular society. This highlights the "spirituality" of human beings, and goes far beyond the labels of religious affiliations. In this world where people kill each other for money, power and other base motives this tsunami disaster has proved that the "divine qualities" of human beings are not lost.

Study of many religions show that innocent suffering both as individuals and communities is redemptive and open the hearts and mind of even evil people. In the 20th century this reality was effectively proved by the lives and work of people such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela.

Therefore this tsunami disaster which was beyond human control has at least taught us human beings two lessons. First of all the frailty and limitations of human knowledge, despite all the advancement that has taken place in the world. Secondly the positive effect of the power of innocent suffering, which unites humanity irrespective of all human barriers, has been affirmed by this disaster.

In a world where powerful nations tend to think that they control the destiny of humanity, this catastrophe has reminded us that all human beings are equal and that we need one another to live in this world.

Let this disaster be a source of inspiration to the world so that we rediscover the dependent nature of humanity on this planet.

Rev. Fr. Keerthisiri Fernando UK and Sri Lanka.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


The significance of the Cross

Good Friday is the day on which Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the Cross. With Jesus' death on the cross, the cross gradually became the symbol of the Christian faith. How and why did the cross become synonymous with Christianity? During the time of Jesus, about 2,000 years ago, under the Roman imperial government, death on a cross was the way in which Romans executed thieves, robbers, rebels and other such people who became a threat to the peaceful way of life under their rule. Then why did Jesus have to undergo this sort of death?

by Fr. Keerthisiri Fernando

In a way Jesus was a protester and a reformer of Judaism. His stand gradually became a threat to Jewish leaders and the Roman imperial government, and so Jewish leaders plotted to get rid of Jesus with the support of the Roman government. They succeeded in arresting Jesus with the help of Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples of Jesus. Finally they got him executed on a cross.

Jesus was a Jew and lived with other Jews. During this time Jewish territory was under Roman rule, and yet Jewish leaders, while oppressing poor people, enjoyed certain privileges from the Roman colonial government. Jesus throughout his earthly ministry took the side of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised and other such people who were isolated from society. In his teachings Jesus reminded the society of its responsibility in looking after these people and enabling them to stand on their feet.

Jews during the time of Jesus offered animal sacrifices to get rid of their sins. Jesus taught people that one cannot get rid of sin simply by offering animals. His teaching was that true repentance guarantees salvation or liberation.

He also proclaimed that the suffering of an innocent person for the sake of others is redemptive. Jesus performed this, which is his central teaching on the cross. This is how the cross became the symbol of Christianity after Jesus was raised from the dead, since death could not confine Jesus to the grave.

It is the responsibility of Christians to follow Jesus by taking up his or her cross. Here the cross means to bear the sufferings of other people willingly.

This is what is called the Christ-centred life expected of his followers. Followers of Jesus are called to empty themselves for the growth of others. That is why Jesus said, "If you try to gain your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake you will find it".

It is said that Jesus defeated the ultimate idol, which is self, on the cross. The message of the cross for all humanity is that people are called to defeat this idol to redeem other people, so that they will have the hope of resurrection.

As we begin the Holy Week it is quite appropriate to reflect on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus which is the central theme of Christian life. The humility and selflessness of Jesus spurs humans to be humble and self-giving.

The writer is Incumbent, Holy Emmanuel Church, Moratuwa.

150th anniversary of the Holy Emmanuel Church, Moratuwa :

Cultural integration through Christianity

by Fr. Keerthisiri Fernando

The great church or Mahapalliya at Rawatawatte in Moratuwa will be celebrating its 150th anniversary on December 27, 2010. Although Holy Emmanuel Church is 150 years old the Anglican congregation there has a history of over 200 years. When the British took the coastal areas of Sri Lanka from the Dutch in 1796, many buildings where the Dutch worshipped became places for Anglican worship - the established religion of the British Empire. Accordingly, at Rawatawatte, from the latter part of the 18th century a Dutch building became a place of Anglican worship.

The Dutch structure was built in 1675 on the site of the general cemetery behind the present church. As the old building was in a dilapidated state, a new church was built in 1815 to replace the old Dutch building.

As the church was closely associated with the then British Governor Sir Robert Brownrigg it was called “Brownrigg Palliya”. By the mid 19th century it was in poor condition and a proposal was presented to the Bishop of Colombo by Gate Mudaliyar Jeronis de Soysa to ask the Governor to authorize the building of a new church to replace the old one. Consequently the necessary authorization was granted to build the new church. Hence the church celebrating 150 years was created in 1860 as an offspring of the previous churches.

Although introduced as a foreign faith, Christianity in Moratuwa is strongly rooted today, with all its social and spiritual consequences. The history of the past two centuries of the congregation and the 150 years of the Holy Emmanuel Church at Rawatawatte is a living witness to this growth and progress.

One of the unique features of this church is that from the beginning the church has been conducting worship mainly in Sinhala. This came through the day-to-day life of people in the area who have been proud of their language even under the British regime when prominence was given to English. This is quite unique as the Anglican Church was the official religion of the British Empire.

Today the tower of this church stands firmly at one end of the village of Rawatawatte as a landmark and has marked the boundary of the neighbouring village of Idama for one and a half centuries, and is an integral part of the identity of these villages. The clock of this tower rings its bells every 15 minutes according to its own style and has become a natural rhythm of the area crossing boundaries of the villages in Moratuwa.

The spiritual nourishment received from this church through liturgical activities has been spreading to the surrounding areas through members, organizations and the activities of its congregation. This church consists of many organizations to accommodate people of both genders and all ages, and their needs such as education, aesthetic activities, spiritual sustenance and exposures to be the basis of all social and spiritual necessities of the members of this church, with wider implications in society.

Although the Holy Emmanuel Church, Moratuwa is a parish in the Anglican Diocese of Colombo it is mainly governed by the ‘Trust Deed’ of the Parish. Administration of the parish is led by the Vicar and the Board of Wardens who are the trustees of the parish.

This church has produced a remarkable example of integration and assimilation of the universal cultural values of Christianity into a local congregation in Moratuwa by retaining their Christian integrity and identity. Over the years the parish has produced people who have been involved in all spheres of life. They include professors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, carpenters and teachers who have enriched their professions with Christian values. For example, the skills of carpentry have been making a significant contribution in the areas of the daughter churches of St. Paul’s Church, Moratumulla, St. Michael’s and all Angels Church, Willorawatte and The Church of the Healing Christ, Kadalana which are the strong areas of the Master Carpenters of Moratuwa.

Over the years this church has been fortunate to have scholarly and practical clergy enriching the life and work of people not only in this church but also the whole area and beyond. For instance, three former vicars of this church became Bishops, making a wider contribution to church and society. After serving as vicars both E.A. Copleston and Harold de Soysa became the Bishop of Colombo in turn, while Roger Herft is the present Archbishop of Perth and the Chief Guest of the 150th Anniversary celebrations.

Located in a prominent place this church and its members have existed peacefully with people from all spheres of life. The ways in which they have been trying to maintain an inclusive attitude to accommodate various people have been remarkable compared with the growing exclusiveness in Sri Lankan society. As this congregation celebrates the 150th anniversary of their present church let us congratulate them and wish them every success in carrying on their good work with such commitment in the days to come.

Holy Emmanuel Church,

40th anniversary of the Theological College of Lanka, Pilimatalawa : Towards a Sri Lankan Christian identity

by Rev. Keerthisiri Fernando


At the beginning of the twentieth century when the majority of Sri Lankans were getting ready for independence from the British Empire, many British Christian denominations had made no serious preparations for the new order in Sri Lanka and continued to enjoy the privileges of her close association with the British.

 There was, however, a small group of Christians who had foreseen the need to think and act as in new ways after independence. Among them was the Revd. Lakdasa de Mel whose process of indigenisation launched at Baddhegama in the 1920s was an important step. His efforts eventually created what is now called the Ceylon Liturgy, using Sinhala folk music derived from sources such as the paddy farmers, cartmen and boatmen in rural areas of Sri Lanka.Pioneering activities such as this became valuable when the British left the Island in 1948. People who had become Christians through the work of missionaries were forced to rethink their identity.

Significant cultural and social changes did not begin to take place until the late 1950s, and especially after the 1956 general election. The coalition government headed by the newly formed Sri Lanka Freedom Party set out to establish a new cultural identity. The English language was displaced by the use of Sinhala and Tamil for all official business as well as in education. The Church equally accepted the importance of local languages but saw its own future looking very bleak when the government decided to take over management of the school network.

In 1963 three of the Protestant churches in Sri Lanka, namely Anglican, Methodist and Baptist decided to form a theological college for the training of future ministers. After much discussion and consideration the founders of this college opted for the use of local languages and a localised cultural emphasis. Later, the Presbyterian Church in Sri Lanka joined with the other churches to formulate the training of their ministers. When the Theological College was founded in Lanka in 1963 it was almost unthinkable that theology should be taught in local languages, specially in Sinhala.

Education and formation

Lectures at the Theological College are held in Sinhala, Tamil and English. Sinhala and Tamil students are required to write in their own languages. The College is affiliated to the Senate of Serampore College, India and has been accredited by the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia. (ATESEA) The main subjects taught are Theology and Ethics, Ministry and Communication, Biblical Studies, the History of Christianity, and Religion and Society. In addition, Tamil students study Practical Sinhala and Sinhala students study practical Tamil, giving all students a practical knowledge of each other's language.

There are about ten full-time lecturers resident on the College premises and a number of part-time lecturers who teach various subjects, including languages and other faiths followed in Sri Lanka. There are also a few foreign lecturers who widen the students' horizons so that, as an island-dwelling people, they do not become isolated from the rest of the world. For this same purpose the College keeps links with England through the parishes of St. Mary's Goudhurst, Kent and Christ Church, Kilndown, Kent (both in the Diocese of Canterbury) and with St. John's College, York, a college of Leeds University.

Apart from classroom work, field education is taken seriously as an integral part of the students' tuition. The field education programme is divided into three main areas - weekend field education; long-vacation field placement and a research-and-an-extended essay on a subject chosen by the student.

First-year students are sent to parishes and circuits where they become involved with traditional forms of ministry such as Sunday School, Bible Studies and visits to church members in their homes. Second-year students taken an active part in caring ministries such as working in homes for the elderly, in homes for differently able people, and in running a youth club for children in the area of the College. Third-year students are exposed to frontier and emerging ministries such as workers' movements and tea plantation workers' groups.

In their third year theology students write research papers on current issues of their choice. Typical subjects might be street children, prostitutes, and inter-religious and cultural research. During the long vacation first and second-year students are sent in small groups students to various areas to become exposed to and study various socio-cultural and religious influences. This comprehensive field education programme enables students to learn from real situations and to discuss these issues in the classroom and challenge social theories and prejudices. Worship is at the heart of this community and takes place three times a day, morning, noon and evening, in Sinhala, Tamil and English with meditations and experimental forms.

The chapel is decorated with Sri Lankan woodcarvings. The congregation remove their footwear and sit on the floor. Indigenous musical instruments such as tabla, violin and sitar mainly accompany worship. Guitars are used where appropriate, without displacing the indigenous atmosphere of worship.

Sinhala students study Buddhism under a scholarly monk while Tamil students study Hinduism from an experienced tutor. Prior to this, both Sinhala and Tamil students are given an outline course on the major religions of the world. All students follow other courses such as one that covers social, cultural and economic issues. During their training students are encouraged to analyse how colonial philosophies were intertwined with Christian teachings as a means of propagating colonialism.

At Pilimatalawa students get the opportunity to evaluate how elements that are contrary to the Christian gospel were promoted through Christianity but with ulterior motives. For instance, when people were baptised as Christians so that they could qualify as teachers in Christian schools or to win an influential position in government. This was a total distortion of the serious meaning of baptism.

Cultural and community activities

The most notable linguistic and cultural events at the College are three annual festivals called Sinhala, Tamil and English Days. Students perform dances, dramas and other cultural activities. These events enable students to improve their knowledge and understanding of their own culture and extend their knowledge of others. The Basil Jackson Theological Society, which was formed in honour of the first Principal of the College, organises seminars and discussions to deepen students' theological understanding. Activities are organised to enhance the College's community spirit.

About twice each term the whole community comes together for a meal and some entertainment organised by the students. This gathering brings together lecturers, office and other staff and their families from Sinhala Tamil, Eurasian and Foreign backgrounds representing the Christian, Buddhist and Hindu faiths.

Once a year a sports meeting is organised where all members of the community can take part as members of one family. Once in every two years an excursion is arranged to a place of interest in Sri Lanka. During past years this has included visits to places such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. Some Tamil students from the North and East these excursions have been enabled to visit these places for the first time in their life.


The Theological College of Pilimatalawa has effectively shown that Sinhala and Tamil students can study together in the same classes in their own languages. It is important to note that the importance of English is as a link language and not as the language of the elite.

When Sinhala lecturers teach in Sinhala and English, Tamil students depend on their knowledge of English and other students to understand what is being taught. Similarly, when Tamil lecturers each in Tamil and English, Tamil students depend on their knowledge of English and other students.

Sinhala and Tamil lecturers always try to give a summary in another language to make students from other ethnic groups feel comfortable. Although this way of teaching is not easy it has brought Sinhala and Tamil students together without abandoning their mother tongue. Students use English as a servant to knowledge without becoming slaves of the English.

The way in which English is used shows the importance of the English language for national harmony. This points the way to abolishing the old model whereby a few English educated people ruled those who lacked knowledge of their language. When students become involved in this learning process, they lose the Anglophobia caused by the 'superiority' of an anglicised, English-educated minority and learn pride in their mother tongue. This is in contrast to some in Sri Lanka who, being fluent in English, seem to despise their mother tongue.

In the College religious conversion is not understood as a matter of changing labels, from one religion to another. It is understood as a change of heart and mind according to the gospel proclaimed by Jesus Christ. The former colonial concept that one religion is against another is itself opposed by the Christian gospel preached by Jesus. Students are encouraged to study other religions in order to deepen their faith in symbiosis with other religions.

Located in a predominately Buddhist village, the College has served Sri Lankan society for forty years, training Christian ministers who will work in the community with a sound understanding of Sri Lankan realities and make bridges between various socio-cultural and religious groups.

The College is proud of the fact that three past-principals, including the present Principal the Revd. Dr. Sarath Wickramasinghe and most of the present lecturers are former pupils. The two Anglican Bishops, Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chikera - Bishop of Colombo; Rt. Rev. Kumara Illangasinghe - Bishop of Kurunegala, the Methodist President, Rev. Noel Fernando and the Baptise President, Rev. Warshamanage, in Sri Lanka all studied at the College, as did a number of notable Christians working in various parts of the world, including the Rt. Rev. Roger Herft, the present Anglican Bishop of Newcastle in Australia.

We pray that the College will continue to be an institution with a pioneering spirit, developing effective models of learning, and promoting peace and harmony between various ethno-religious and cultural groups in Sri Lanka.

Seventy fifth anniversary celebrations

Monday, August 29, 2016 - 01:00

In the early 40s, an Oxford educated young clergyman in his early 30s was appointed to one of the largest Anglican congregations in Sri Lanka. This church was special for him as this was a gift from his paternal great grand father to the people of Moratuwa.

This clergyman appointed as Incumbent of Holy Emmanuel Church, was Fr. Harald de Soysa, a great grandson of Joronis de Soysa the donor of this church.

After being exposed to young people from many countries at Oxford, Father de Soysa understood the necessity to bring young people together to enhance their skills, talents and energies in the context of the faith community.

Although Father de Soysa had a broader vision of starting the Church of Ceylon Youth Movement for the whole country first of all he ventured out into establishing the Holy Emmanuel Church Youth Fellowship as a pre-shadow of his vision. For his effort the parish became a fertile ground with young people from all spheres of life.

In 1941, the Youth Fellowship was born under the leadership of then Rev. Herald de Soysa (he later became the first Sri Lankan Bishop of Colombo) the Incumbent of Holy Emmanuel Church, Moratuwa. With the founding of the Youth Fellowship the parish had a revival with the revitalisation of the energies of young people.

Gradually the leadership of the parish which was very much confined to the older generation changed and the young people got involved in the activities of the parish with renewed vigour.

With the open economy in the late 1970s, Youth Fellowship was open to some young people of other faiths who received associate memberships. Although this became a controversial issue in the parish this step enabled the young people of the parish to develop an inclusive attitude towards the people of sister faiths.

In the early 80s with the advancement of the electronic communication and other modern facilitates the members of the Youth Fellowship gradually learnt how to think globally and act locally. A publication called Tharuna handa (The voice of the Youth) facilitated the young people to express their views to enrich the thinking of the parish.

This was a era where young people gathered daily at the parish hall to play games such as badminton and table tennis. Through games they enjoyed the fellowship and friendship by strengthening their relationships.

Today the Youth Fellowship functions in the context of the above realities. With the widening of horizons the young people have been making efforts to retain their identity in the parish while handling the drastic changes that they have been undergoing.

This rapid changing environment has made the members of the Youth Fellowship to contemplate on the importance of keeping the tension and balance between spiritual and empirical realities.

Today the Youth Fellowship of Holy Emmanuel Church exists as a live wire of the faith community and surrounding area. There are many couples in the parish and elsewhere who met each other as friends in the Youth Fellowship and later through marriage came together as husbands and wives. The Youth Fellowship has been able make its contribution to the parish and the society for 75 years by facilitating the formation of young people in a positive manner.

Today there are many past members of the Youth Fellowship in all spheres of life. It is encouraging to note that they have joined together to celebrate the 75th anniversary to encourage young people. We hope and pray that the Youth Fellowship will be able continue their process of education and formation for young people to transform their lives to make this word a better place for the future generations.

- Rev. Keerthisiri Fernando, Archdeacon of Nuwara Eliya, Diocese of Colombo

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