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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

The Rayappu Factor, the Catholic Church and the Sermon on the Mannar Front

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London……

Right Rev Rayappu Joseph, the Bishop of Mannar, is no stranger to controversy; nor is he good at concealing his racial sentiments, despite being in a robe to symbolize the membership of a great institute that stood for centuries - the Catholic Church. His selective condemnation of civilian deaths - putting his emphasis only on a certain community - did not help him to prove otherwise. Unfortunately, what the Rev Rayappu says is not for good governance. If implemented, it will lead to an administrative paralysis with a point of no-return. Unfortunately, what the Rev Rayappu says is not for good governance. If implemented, it will lead to an administrative paralysis with a point of no-return.

He has been grabbing headlines – mostly for the wrong reasons, unfortunately – over the issue of the Madhu Church and its famous statue, the Madhu ‘Matha’, recently. He did everything in his power to stop the legitimate army of a democratic country from reaching the area, citing the imminent danger of destruction against both the IDP’s and the Church buildings. Rev Rayappu, however, could not account for the presence of well-fortified bunkers and mines in the churchyard on his watch. He simply says that it took place after he left. This is beggar’s belief.

Rev Rayappu made sure the revered statue of Madhu Matha was removed to safety before the fighting broke out in the church premises itself. It is very commendable indeed! Unfortunately, its next port of call was not in a utopia; far from it.

The whole episode was hyped up to appease a certain audience – the news channels which are hell bent on depicting a negative picture of everything that our little island struggles to cope with.

During the past thirty years, the only places of worship that have been attacked were the Buddhist and Muslim ones – the Temple of the Tooth Relic, Aranthalawa Bhikku massacre, the attack on the Sri Mahabodhi and Kattankudi Mosque. Apart from that other places of worship were spared during the fighting. Certainly, no Catholic church was ever targeted. Against this background, Rev Rayappu had the unquenchable urge to take the statue of Madhu Matha for her safety - something he did address in haste.

Once the fighting on the Mannar front was over, the statue was taken back to the church in an ambulance. Travelling by an ambulance can trigger off streams of speculation; but in this case, it looks like something done to cover up the tracks from the watchful eyes of the Tigers.

The statue is back and the issues are not addressed fully. Rev Rayappu is not someone who can easily be satisfied. He now insists on a peace zone around the church premises covering a vast area so that the pilgrims – pilgrims in disguise as well, of course – can go on worshipping without hindrance. It is very noble of the Bishop indeed. This gesture comes with lots of strings attached.

In an interview with a national newspaper, Rev Rayappu has said that the Tigers have given him the assurance verbally. And he wants the same from the government in writing! He mentioned about a meeting between him and Tamilselvam, in the presence of his boss, the Archbishop Rt Rev Oswald Gomis.

We are led to believe that these priests, regardless of their ranks, are under the influence of the Holy Spirit, not any other spirit. If it is not the case, it bears all the hall marks of a mild form of haunting or spiritual mix-up – may be by a wandering spirit whose only mission is misleading both laymen and priests alike.

The border between the religious realm and the political arena is thin and very porous. So, it is quite normal and natural for an individual from either camp to stray into other inadvertently. In this context, what Rev Rayappu says about the ethnic issue is political and what he says about ‘Love’ is religious. His robe is the shield that gives him the immunity from criticism, which someone from political sphere is denied of.

However, Rev Rayappu must understand, the Almightily, that he so fondly believes in, does not bestow both gifts upon a single individual – the gift of being a priest or preacher and being a politician simultaneously. In this context, Rev Rayappu’s move to stray into politics has been an unauthorized one. I am sure he knows better than we, the humble mortals, do, of the consequences of manoeuvres of that kind – thanks to studying theology for a long time.

Amidst all these deliberations, his superior, the Archbishop Rt Rev Oswald Gomis maintains a strange inexplicable silence on the issue. That sounds political too. These are not healthy signs for the church, in the long run. Has Rev Rayappu become the spiritual equivalent of Frankenstein? The Archbishop can clear the air and performing that task does not come under the purview of established sins.

The Catholic Church made quite a few blunders in the past that came to haunt it for the decades to come. The priests need to learn something form them in the name of the Hoy Trinity.

For instance, the Pope John Paul officially declared that the earth is not a stationary object in 1992, as the very institute in which he was the leader, nearly burnt the great physicist, Galileo, at stake for saying otherwise - the earth was going round the sun. The Bible never said that the earth was stationary and church got hold of the wrong end of the stick to silence the scientific opinion due to poor interpretation and then paid a heavy price, later on.

The stand it took against the Nazis during the Second World War was another less-than-holy episode too.

The trouble is these incidents haunt the institute for decades to come. So, it is the duty of the Archbishop to nip the political buds with tasty religious nectar, in the bud, in order not to repeat the old scenarios. Maintaining a silence is not a way of weathering a storm, as far as a religious institute is concerned. The hierarchy need the guts to call a spade a spade, before irrelevance stares in the face.

If Rev Rayappu Joseph stuck to Biblical teachings rigidly, the controversy would not have arisen in the first place.

For instance, according to Peter 2: 13-17 in the New Testament, the behaviour of the Christians in a political sense is highlighted like this:

"13 - Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 - or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 - For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 - Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 -Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, and honour the king."

Nowhere in the Bible does it ask to rebel against an existing government – using spears, guns or suicide bombers - to throw everything into chaos. The Almighty knew it all along and wants the mortals to safeguard the existing institutes. Of course, the governments have their own faults and so have the religious institutes of all kinds. But that does not warrant for dismantling either of them by the long arm of sentimentality – racial or otherwise.

Unfortunately, what the Rev Rayappu says is not for good governance. If implemented, it will lead to an administrative paralysis with a point of no-return. So, the sermon on the Mannar Front – what the great bishop says – is not on a par with the inspiring Sermon on the Mount.

Watching all this with glee is no one other than the Satan – the greatest ever deceiver. He can make his presence felt in many forms and in disguise too. His crafty spirits are around, dangerously active and have the potential to attack any vulnerable soul. His first choice is not us, fortunately. It is the hierarchy of the church that are vulnerable.

If the Satan succeeds with that, the rest of his mission is accomplished by default. So, the Sermon on Mannar Front can have a variety of interpretations in the coming months, if not years.

- Asian Tribune -

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