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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

Religious and ethnic amity are essential forerunners for lasting peace

By Quintus Perera – Asian Tribune

Colombo, 21 August, (Asiantribune.com): There are a few fanatics persistently spit anti-religious venom and perpetrate ethnic disharmony and even incite people to involve in violence by setting against religions and ethnic groups. In fact there are instances of attacking and burning of places of worship and preventing religious activities. In the sphere of ethnic disharmony the activities taking place are enormous and too much a number to explain.

Yet, in the country, specially in remote areas there are a lot of Buddhist Monks who brave the torrents of accusations such as aiding and abetting the religious conversions – forge ahead in serving the Buddha Sasana and their Dayakas helping the community around their Temples. Those Leading Buddhist Monks fearlessly facing baseless accusations of helping conversions work along with other religious leaders in the task of propagating Buddhism.) Ven Panditha Ahungalle Wimalajeewa Tissa Thero and other monks in Ambalangoda with Rev Fr Anthony H Pinto, Provincial Superior, Sri Lanka Don Bosco Salasians with the family members who received a house constructed by the SLDBS.) Ven Panditha Ahungalle Wimalajeewa Tissa Thero and other monks in Ambalangoda with Rev Fr Anthony H Pinto, Provincial Superior, Sri Lanka Don Bosco Salasians with the family members who received a house constructed by the SLDBS.

Palugollagama – known as Palugollagama – Meegodawewa is a tiny village in the Anuradhapura District with only around 60 families, and a remote area as such. To reach Palugollagama, one has to first come to Galenbindunuwewa via Yakalla to the village.

Tiny Palugollagama became the symbol of another dazzling example of religious amity, the fundamental ingredient to achieve lasting peace in Sri Lanka, in a country ravaged by war and in turmoil with violence, apathy and insecurity since around 1971.

Poojyapada Ven Udadeniye Wimalagnanaabhidana Thero, Viharadhipathi, Sri Priyadharshanaramaya Temple and Registrar, Sri Gnaneessara Pariwenaaddyarakshaka Mandalaya spoke with a sense of gratitude and said “Even if I am to be shot to night, I stand for truth” The occasion was the donation of a Sanghawasa (Hostel for Novice Monks) to the Buddha Sasanaya (to Sri Priyadharshanaramaya Temple) by Don Bosco Salasians Sri Lanka.Ven Udadeniye Wimalagnanaabhidana Thero in an intimate discussion with Rev Fr Pinto at the Sanghawasa Sanghasatu Kireme Ceremony at Palugollagama.Ven Udadeniye Wimalagnanaabhidana Thero in an intimate discussion with Rev Fr Pinto at the Sanghawasa Sanghasatu Kireme Ceremony at Palugollagama.

The Sanghawasa was built by the Sri Lanka Don Bosco Salarians at a cost of around Rs 1.5 million and the donation was offered by Rev Fr Anthony Humor Pinto, Sri Lanka Country Director/Provincial Superior, Don Bosco Salasians Sri Lanka.

As this Sanghawasa was long awaited, there was jubilation and almost the entire village came to witness this great moment of handing over the building. There is no public transport to Palugollagama from Yakalla. So some people walked, some came in bicycles and many others came in mini-tractors.

These Buddhist Monks aware of religious bindings and the importance of maintaining religious and ethnic amity establish rapport with other religious signatories. They take it as within Lord Buddha’s teachings of maintaining religious and racial amity and harmony.
Ven Wimalagnanabhidana Thero said that since he came to this village temple on 28th June 1998 he wanted to replace the wattle-daub ramshackle Sanghawasa to have afully pledged Pirivena to produce scholar monks and for this purpose he appealed to the government as well as their own religious bodies for help to build a new Sanghawasa.Some of the happy novice monks in front of the Sanghawasa constructed by the Don Bosco Salasians Sri Lanka at PalugollagamaSome of the happy novice monks in front of the Sanghawasa constructed by the Don Bosco Salasians Sri Lanka at Palugollagama

He said that those who create religious and racial disharmony are people without brains. He said that though it was incumbent for the government to provide proper buildings to accommodate these Novice Monks and to legally register the Pirivena, the estimate of Rs 1.5 million for the buildings was submitted on 11th February 2004 only a meager Rs 7,500 was approved and the Local Provincial Council approved only Rs 50,000 and there is no technical officer to authorize that money. Toilet facilities were badly needed for the 15 novice monks at that time.

Meanwhile he has heard about Rev Fr Pinto from another Monk as a person who helps many Buddhist Temples in the Anuradhapura district. When he met he requested Fr Pinto to help him to construct three toilets which Fr Pinto readily accomplished.

One day when Fr Pinto visited the Pirivena, he was extremely upset to see the pathetic conditions in which these young student monks live, huddled together in a tiny ramshackle building. All of them were living in a 8’ x 8’ cubical. Ven Wimalagnanaadhidana Thero then explained to Fr Pinto that they have requested funds, and it was a long wait.

Ven Thero with sincere gratitude remembered how Fr Pinto with humility acceded to the request. Fr Pinto only wanted an estimate. The next day a lorry arrived with 50 bags of cement and also with 15 youngsters. He said that these youngsters were all Tamils sheltered by Don Bosco. Fr Pinto pleaded with the Ven Pirivenadhipathi Thero, not to expose these Tamil boys as there is the tendency to castigate them as LTTEers and attack them.

Ven Thero said that these Tamil boys from a distant land bade him good-night everyday before they went to sleep in the best traditional way and appreciated the training discipline and courtesy these children have been inculcated with and he said that thus harmony among three great religions – Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism was established – a prerequisite to peace.

After the completion of the building the Ven Thero said that with all the documents he went to the Education Department to register the Sanghawasa. The Education Officer refused to register the building saying that he had received 11 petitions that the Monk has been conniving with a Catholic priest to convert Buddhists to Christianity.

He said that he had told the EO that he would burn all the documents at that very moment and collect a number of other Bikkhus who supported taking the help to construct this building, and in the presence of EO they would de-robe and convert to Catholics and name the Sanghawasa “Catholic Student Hall”. The EO who was terribly upset, agreed to take necessary steps to register the Sanghawasa immediately. Now there is ample hostel facilities and at present accommodate 25 novice monks.

Then the Ven Thero in a strong voice said “Shoot me to night, yet I stand for truth, it is an absurd assertion to castigate this Priest as a religious converter”. He challenged anybody to point out any conversions by this Priest in Anuradhapura.

Ethawetunuwewa Dhammissara Thero, Sri Sirambararamdhipathi, Welioya, said that Ethawetunuwewa is known as an area of mortar fire and nobody dared to come or nobody is allowed, specially Christian Priests as there is the fear that LTTers in the guise of clergy would infiltrate the area. Yet Fr Pinto came there and helped to construct buildings to the Temple.

Creating racial and religious harmony is a grave task as these attempts could be bulldozed by those religious fanatics who baselessly accuse that those NGOs, and Christian organizations that venture to assist and support in Buddhist areas has ulterior motives.

It is now well-known that Rev Fr Pinto has since sometime has been a vibrant facilitator, to be the shuttle between the Buddhists and Catholics to establish harmony between these two great religions.

In fact, Ven Angurukaramulla, Rajamaha Viharadhipathi Koongodamulle Gnanasiri Nayake Thero, Negombo traveled from Negombo to Palugollagama to vouch the credibility of Rev Fr Pinto and assured that Fr Pinto has been a time tested crusader to fight evils against humanity and they have been carrying out a great revolution with the combination of Saffron robe and White Cassock in the Negombo area. He said that they were together combating social evils, such as child abuse, prostitution and child trafficking.

Before becoming a facilitator between the Catholics and Buddhists to augment harmony among the two religions, Fr Pinto is well-known as an anti-evil fighter in Negombo. He sphere-headed a massive anti-pedophile campaign that trembled even the government to take action to stamp out this sex menace.

The Sri Lanka Catholic Church in its wisdom identified Fr Pinto as a fearless mediator and facilitator to create harmony among religions, a crucial grassroots level ingredient to achieve peace in the country.

So this crusader from Negombo was posted to Nochchiyagama, Anuradhapura at a time religious hooliganism was raising its head and in fact his posting their was somewhat volatile. Nevertheless this man, forged ahead with his divine mission in combating anti-social and evil elements and also the added task of creating harmony among religions and races and Anuradhapura District found to be ideal for his mission.

Fr Pinto did not go to preach the Christian doctrine, but went to as much Buddhist temples as possible, and started rehabilitating a large number of Buddha Daham Schools most of which were defunct at that time for want of either buildings or furniture and funds to build them. He has then been nicknamed “Priest in the Temple”

Fr Pinto has truly accomplished the unbelievable task of creating harmony among the Buddhists and Christians from a volatile situation and he cultivated friendship with more and more Buddhist monks.

His Congregation has amply rewarded him for a mission well accomplished. The Don Bosco world Body has decided to make Sri Lanka a separate Vice Province and voted him to be the first Provincial Superior of the Don Bosco Salasian, Sri Lanka. By then he has proved that he is a task master.

Fr Pinto proved his mantle, as, at his installation Ceremony to make him the Provincial Superior, half of the massive church at Eththukala Negombo was filled with Buddhist Monks. It was the courage and integrity of this single man stood up and helped the Buddhist Temples and won the hearts of these Buddhist monks. They all covered the long distance from Anuradhapura to witness the elevation of the benefactor of Buddhism in the Anuradhapura District

The man who tirelessly worked in Anuradhapura in helping as many Buddhist Temples as possible, when installed as the Provincial Superior, he was confronted with a greater task to face the aftermath of the marauding Tsunami hit Sri Lanka devastating almost the entire coastal belt.

In such a damning backdrop of the government’s lukewarm attitude in providing essentials for the destitute Tsunami victims, Don Bosco Salasians Sri Lanka moved into action, cautiously and swiftly and a fearless determined man Fr Pinto was at the helm directing operations to mitigate human suffering and to sooth a bleeding nation. They mustered the might of the international aid and first there were streams of lorry loads of food clothing and sheltering equipment to almost all the Tsunami affected areas.

In this manner the Sri Lanka Don Bosco Salasians have procured and disbursed around Euro 12 billion amounting to around Rs 1,500 million in providing housing and other items and assistance in all affected areas. They have been looking after around 6,000 to 8,000 families in providing these essentials in various areas for more than six months.

They planned and implemented construction of houses and provided boats, out-board engines and fishing gear to a large number of fishermen who lost all their belongings, in the South, in Negombo, Trincomalee, Neelaveli and even in Kilinochchi. They constructed 35 houses in Balapitiya, 25 houses in Thotagamuwa, 15 houses in Ambalangoda and 10 houses in Peraliya. In addition, has rehabilitated a number of Buddhist Daham schools and provided equipment to schools.

When the news spread that some Buddhist Monks in the South were coordinating and monitoring assistance from some other religious organizations to meet the necessities of the Tsunami victims, the extremist elements were quick to accuse these brave Buddhist Monks of attempting to sell Buddhism.

Ven Ambarukkarama Mulamaha Viharadhipathi Amarapura Moolawanshika and Registrar, Galle, Sugatha sasanodaya Maha Pirivena Poojya Wimalageewatissa Thero, one of the leading Buddhist Monks involved in procuring assistance form DBSSL said that Don Bosco has proved their honesty in purpose as they have provided all the assistance in these areas through Buddhist Monks. He said "How can anyone accuse Don Bosco as they ventured to rehabilitate our own Buddhist Daham Schools and provide other assistance to damaged Buddhist Temples."

Government was so atrocious that in Ambalangoda when Ven Ambalangoda Sirinanda Nayake Thero looking after around 300 families in his Temple and when he was confronted with serious logistic problems in providing sanitation, toilet facilities and drinking water, he requested these facilities from the local Pradeshia Sabha and the result, he was treated like a common criminal and charged in Court for obstructing public officials with a 22 page indictment and was released on a Rs 25,000 personal bail. Don Bosco Salasian helped to provide housing to some of these victims.

When the government put all the breaks to suppress the NGOs helping the Tsunami victims, as even taxes were imposed on the assistance, Fr Pinto was able to penetrate all these debacles as his desire was to help the suffering humanity which has been a dire necessity in such a disastrous condition as in Sri Lanka.

He has proved that if there is the will there is the way and he has been magnificently accommodated by the exemplary Buddhist Monks not only obtaining assistance but through this cordial cooperation, creating the basic impetus of achieving as one nation, for the development of the country and for the greater benefit of human race.

Don Bosco Salasians have proved that, even the worst conditions are no barrier to serve humanity to mitigate human suffering, irrespective of religion and race.

Thus Sri Lanka needs more and more persons in the caliber of Fr Pinto, to resurrect bleeding Sri Lanka from turmoil and violence. It is also heartening that there are also a large number of Buddhist Monks spread all over the country who are prepared to go ahead despite various baseless accusations to work for peace and harmony among religions and races.

These actions by these religious leaders is also a damning attack on the politicians and religious fanatics who senselessly create an atmosphere of religious and racial disharmony. Thus Fr Pinto has become a National Hero.

- Asian Tribune -

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