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Festival of life and human fraternity



By Rev. Fr. Leopold Ratnasekera OMI
OMI Seminary, Ampitiya, Kandy

Christmas is the story about a newborn baby, the unique Jewish child of Bethlehem who saw the light of day during a night lit by a star of wonder that hovered over the city of King David in modern day Palestine. Birthdays are celebrated in appreciation of the gift and blessing of life as well as in thanksgiving to the creator who makes all prospective mothers become sanctuaries of new throbbing life. Each newborn infant is a miracle of nature and a wonder to behold, a cosmic symbol, a masterpiece in the hands of the divine potter, a bearer of God’s very image and likeness, a fruit of love, a bundle of joy, the pride of parents, a bond in the family, a future man and a human called to be a saint. Every newborn introduces us to the august mystery of life, an echo of human dignity and a witness to the God of Life and Love who invites all people to a global human fraternity, celebrating life as well as sharing its blessings in abundance.

There is nothing more precious and of infinite value in this world of space and time, than a life of a human being: Infant, child, youth, adult, man, woman or the elderly and even the terminally ill and infirm. All world’s resources should be at the service of life including the latest and most sophisticated technology and social media. A world culture that depreciates life and considers it only as a commodity sadly falls short of a justified rational vision of humanity. For human beings, the greatest blessing to be accrued is fraternity, brotherhood and solidarity, without which humanity would plunge into utter disarray and be subject to feuds, conflicts, enmities and mistrust. These unfortunate phenomena are brazenly at work even at this moment, in our world. Destructive competitiveness in commerce, business and trade is rampant in the international economic scenario. Many countries vie for economic superiority.

The abuse of religion in all its fundamentalist forms, for political purposes, at times flares up in the form of open terrorist activities and violence which, in principle, no religion can justify or condone. Islamic fundamentalism falls into this category, whereby people are branded apostates and killed summarily for blasphemy just because they are of a different religious faith or tradition. In a civilised society, this is utterly unacceptable and to be condemned as a travesty of religion and a crime against humanity. It is imperative that those in leadership, in various religions, strive to raise awareness about authentic religion, to help avoid misrepresentation by extremist elements.

Another dangerous trend is the arms race. Nuclear proliferation may even lead to the militarization of free space and distant planets, which definitely spells disaster as it fosters distrust among nations. The continued debates at the UN on this crucial issue and the UN’s failure to get nations to agree to abandon such dangerous projects sadly threatens world peace and fraternity among nations and peoples. Lastly, poverty hangs over humanity like a brooding dark cloud, due to multinational companies that monopolise world trade, stunting the growth of local economies through unjust intrusion. As a result of third world poverty in the southern hemisphere, more than two thirds of the world’s population still live below the poverty line. It manifests in the form of unemployment, depreciation of local currencies, inadequate health facilities, inflation in economies, local conflicts and tensions that discourage foreign investments. Abuse of political power and national resources for personal aggrandisement further exacerbates the situation.

In such a scenario, human fraternity shatters as does democracy. Critics who blame relentless militarism claim that with the money spent on armaments, their manufacture, sale and deployment, the hungry millions can easily be fed, while also providing aid for sectors such as education and healthcare and developing other basic infrastructure facilities like serviceable roads and decent housing for the rural poor. The migration of rural folks into crowded urban enclosures also causes psychological and emotional issues. Although the incredible feats of electronic and social media are admirable, the moral havoc unleashed is beyond compare and has led to the deplorable violation of human dignity, individual rights and privacy and the general deterioration of moral values and ethical standards, continuously dehumanising society.

Science, technology and communication must be at the service of mankind which would ameliorate quality of life and living conditions the world over. The world must be transformed into a more humane, just and rich civilization and a safe haven for those in overcrowded cities, farmers, small-business owners, millions who migrate or are marooned on the high seas, endangering their very lives, and smaller countries threatened with insecurity by world powers. The culturally and militarily conditioned clash of civilizations has to be prevented for a more peaceful world to evolve where nations understand, sympathise with and help one another. Dialogue will foster mutual understanding among peoples in the kind of global village that has emerged.

Christmas, good news about life, can easily be termed the gospel of life. It is also the gospel of infants, the voice of children, challenging the adult world as powerful agents echoing the dignity of life. Consequently, Christmas is a child-centred festival and celebration whereby the adult world is made to appreciate the wonder and beauty of life. All forces threatening it have to be squarely challenged, such as abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia and all forms of violence, whether domestic, social or political, which deserve a right-thinking man’s just condemnation. Christmas always gathers people in families, circles of friends and well-wishers in celebration. Our shopping and gifting are part and parcel of celebrating this festival which highlights the spirit of Christmas, wherein in the infant babe of Bethlehem, born on the first Christmas night, God gave himself in love and kindness to mankind naming himself ‘Emmanuel’, which means God-with-us. The world and its history, as well as humanity and its civilization have never been the same since the birth of Jesus Christ. He was a humble carpenter’s son from Galilee of Palestine, who was destined to change the course of humanity forever.

His teaching about the need to love the One True God despising all other idolatrous worship, be it of gods or mammon, coupled with its connatural demand of love and respect for the neighbour that makes one cross all racial, language, ethnic, social and national borders, if only heeded by modern man and his institutions, would surely bring about a new world of human fraternity and healthy social relationships. In this global village, we need a global ethic and this can be propagated only via religious values brought in to focus through dialogue between world religions. It is opportune to commit oneself to this herculean task while the whole world celebrates Christmas.

The celebration of Christmas entails the challenge of promulgating its spirit beyond Christmastide throughout the year and beyond. Though it is a celebration focused on a newborn child, we who celebrate are invited into his world of peace and humanity, which becomes everyone’s dream and solemn responsibility.

The beauty and mystery of a child cannot be justly understood without its concomitants of parenting, family and the converse duty of providing it with everything – intellectual, cultural, civic and social – needed for growth, maturity and development. The family with its domestic background, the school with its formative atmosphere and religious institutions with their spiritual resources contribute, all in their due and specific measure, to social progress. We live in a world where individuals are bound to nature as well as to others in society, where no man is an island.

Jesus Christ welcomed all people with open arms, as when praising the Samaritan leper returning to thank him for the cure, the proverbial good Samaritan who went to the succour of the Jew, attacked by the brigands, the many other gentile women for whom he worked miracles or the Roman centurion’s servant he healed. The three kings reputed to be wise men journeying to Bethlehem were gentiles from the East: A good harbinger of things to come. Christ taught high ideals like walking the extra mile, forgiving wrong-doers seventy times seven, loving enemies and doing good to those who hate. These were extraordinary messages for the Palestinian society of his day.

The Babe of Bethlehem registers the humble beginnings of the greatest life ever lived, embodies the greatest story ever told and the most extraordinary event ever recorded in the annals of human history. Jesus Christ, whose birth is today globally celebrated, is a universal and cross cultural treasure. At every Christmas, the call for human dignity and global fraternity must be heard loud and clear.


Lingering world disorder and the UN’s role



The 9/11 Twin Tower horror in New York.

Russia could very well be questioning the legitimacy of the UN system by currently challenging the right of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to arbitrate in the conflicting accusations of genocide brought against each other by it and Ukraine. Russia has countered Ukraine’s charge of genocide, occasioned by its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, by accusing the latter of perpetrating the same crime in the rebel region of Eastern Ukraine, which is seen as being within the Russian sphere of influence.

As is known, when Russia did not participate in a hearing sanctioned by the ICJ on the charge of genocide brought against it in March 2022, the ICJ called on Russia to halt the invasion forthwith. Russia, however, as reported in some sections of the international media, reacted by claiming that the ICJ has ‘no jurisdiction over the case since Ukraine’s request does not come within the scope of the Genocide Convention.’ The main sides to the Ukraine conflict are at present reportedly stating their positions in the ICJ with regard to the correctness of this claim.

Whereas, the law-abiding the world over would have expected the ICJ’s word to prevail in the Ukraine conflict, this does not seem to be the case. More precisely, it is the moral authority of the UN that is being questioned by Russia. Given this situation, the observer cannot be faulted for believing that Russia is ‘sticking to its guns’ of favouring a military solution in the Ukraine.

Considering the foregoing and the continuing lawlessness in other geographical regions, such as South-West Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, the commentator is justified in taking the position that little or nothing has been gained by the world community by way of fostering international peace over the decades.

Most distressing is the UN’s seeming helplessness in the face of international disorder, bloodshed and war. The thorny questions from the 9/11 New York twin-tower terror attacks, for instance, are remaining with humanity.

One of the most dreaded questions is whether the UN Charter has been rendered a dead letter by the forces of lawlessness and those wielders of overwhelming military might who couldn’t care less for moral scruples. Those state actors who display these traits risk being seen as destruction-oriented subversives or terrorists who are impervious to civilizational values.

Commentators are right when they point to the need for UN reform. This is, in fact, long overdue. Of the original ‘Big Five’ who went on to constitute the permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC) at the end of World War 11 and who oversaw the establishment of the UN, only the US and China retain major power status in the true sense of the phrase today.

The rest of the original heavyweights cannot be considered ‘spent forces’, but there are other powers of more recent origin who could easily vie for their positions. Some of these are India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia. Inducting some of the latter into the UNSC could help constitute a more globally representative UNSC. That is, they will help put together an UNSC which is more faithfully reflective of the current global power distribution.

Theoretically, a more widely representative and inclusive UNSC could be a check against the arbitrary exercise of power by the more ambitious, expansionary and authoritarian members of the UNSC but a foremost challenge facing the UN is to induce such new members of the UNSC into representing the vital and legitimate interests of the ordinary publics within these states and internationally. Minus such representation of the world’s powerless UN reform could come to nought. In fact, this could be described as a prime challenge before the UN which could decide its enduring relevance.

Admittedly, the challenge is complex and defies easy resolution. Not all the countries that are seen as prospective UNSC members are democratic in orientation. That is, they would not be people-friendly or egalitarian. Most of them are governed by power elites that are part of what has been described as the ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’ and could be expected to be repressive and parasitic rather than caring or egalitarian. How then could they be expected to be committed to re-distributive justice within their countries, for example?

In the short and medium terms, the UN system could bring into being systems and institutions that could make it comparatively difficult for the power elites of the world to be parasitic, exploitive, self-serving and unconscionable. Strengthening and giving added teeth to systems that could prove effective against money-laundering and allied practices of self-aggrandizement is one way out.

Ironically, it is perhaps the UN that could lay the basis for and provide these mechanisms most effectively and non-obtrusively. It would need to work more with governments and publics on these fronts and lay the foundation for the necessary accountability procedures within states. It should prepare for the long haul.

In the longer term, it’s the coming into existence of democracy-conscious governments and ruling strata that must be sought. Here too the UN could play a significant role. Its numerous agencies could prove more proactive and dynamic in inculcating and teaching the core values of democracy to particularly poor and vulnerable populations that could fall prey to anti-democratic, parochial political forces that thrive on division and discord.

UN aid could be even directly tied to the establishment and strengthening of democratic institutions in particularly impoverished countries and regions. Thus will the basis be laid for younger leaders with a strong democratic vision and programmatic alternative for their countries. Hopefully, such issues would get some airing in the current UN General Assembly sessions.

Accordingly, the broad-basing of the UNSC is integral to UN reform but the progressive world cannot stop there. It would need to ensure the perpetuation of the UN system by helping to bring into being polities that would respect this cardinal international organization which has as its prime aim the fostering of world peace. Democracy-conscious populations are an urgent need and systems of education that advocate the core values of democracy need to be established and strengthened worldwide.

The coming into being of rivals to the current Western-dominated world order, such as the BRICS bloc, needs to be welcomed but unless they are people-friendly and egalitarian little good will be achieved. Besides, undermining the UN and its central institutions would prove utterly counter-productive.

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Country Roads …concert for children



Sponsors and Country Music Foundation officials - from left: Dmitri Cooray (Jetwing), Maljini Jayasekera (Cargills), Feizal Samath (President CMF), Susaan Bandara (LOLC), Deepal Perera (SriLankan Airlines) and Spencer Manualpillai (Dilmah)

I’ve always wondered why those who have hit the big time in their profession, as singers, have not cared to reach out to the needy.

They generally glorify themselves, especially on social media, not only with their achievements, but also with their outfits, etc. – all status symbols.

I’m still to see some of the big names grouping together to help the thousands who are suffering, at this point in time – children, especially.

However, I need to commend the Country Music Foundation of Sri Lanka for tirelessly working to bring some relief, and happiness, to children, in this part of the world.

Country Roads is said to be Sri Lanka’s and South Asia’s longest running charity concert for children, and this year, they say, the show will be even better.

This concert has consistently donated 100% of its proceeds to children’s charities in Sri Lanka. Over the past 35 years, this has resulted in several million rupees worth of aid, all of which has contributed directly to addressing the most pressing issues faced by children in Sri Lanka, a common practice since the concert’s first edition was held in 1988.

In 2014, the concert contributed Rs. 500,000 to Save the Children Sri Lanka, to support its mother-and-child programme for local plantations. During the same year, another Rs. 100,000 was given to the Oxonian Heart Foundation, to help treat impoverished and destitute children suffering from heart disease, while a further Rs. 100,000 was donated to a poor family caring for a special needs child. In commemoration of its landmark 25th anniversary concert in 2013, CMF donated a million rupees to aid in a special UNICEF project.

Astrid Brook from the UK

The 2023 musical extravaganza will feature the bright lights and panoramic cityscape of Colombo, as its backdrop, as it will be held at the picturesque Virticle by Jetwing, which is situated high above the city, on the 30th floor of the Access Towers building, in Union Place, Colombo 2.

The 35th anniversary Country Roads concert for children will take place on Saturday, 7th October, 2023.

Feizal Samath, President of the Country Music Foundation (CMF), the concert organisers, commented: “We are very much looking forward to this event as it’s being held after a lapse of five years, due to unavoidable circumstances.”

Fan favourites the Mavericks from Germany and Astrid Brook from the UK will once again return to headline the 2023 concert, and joining them on stage will be local outfit Cosmic Rays, as well as the Country Revival Band, with Feizal and Jury.

Dirk (from the Mavericks) has this to say to his Sri Lankan fans: “2018 was the last time we were in your beautiful country with the Mavericks band. Then Corona came and with it a long break. I missed you very much during this time.

“It has now been five years since my last visit to Sri Lanka. A lot has changed. The sponsorship that has always made this trip possible for us is gone. But we didn’t just want to end this tradition, which we have learned to love so much since 1992. That’s why we’re travelling to Sri Lanka this year entirely at our own expense, because it’s an affair of the heart for us.

Mavericks from Germany

“We very much hope that it won’t be the last Maverick performance in Sri Lanka. We hope that this unique journey will continue, that there will also be a Country Roads concert in the years to come.”

The 35th anniversary edition of the Country Roads concert for children will be supported by Official Venue Virticle by Jetwing, and Official Airline SriLankan Airlines, as well as its other partners, Jetwing Colombo Seven, Cargills, LOLC, and Firefly.

Tickets are currently available, for a charitable donation of Rs 2,000 each, at Cargills Food City outlets at Kirulapone, Kohuwela (Bernards), Majestic City, Mount Lavinia (junction) and Staples Street.

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Healthy, Glowing Skin



Give your skin a boost by including the following into your diet:

* Avocados:

Avocados contain healthy fats which can help your skin stay moisturised and firm.

They also contain vitamin C and E – two important nutrients that your body need to support healthy skin and fight free radical formation.

Avocados are also rich in biotin, a B vitamin that some nutritionists believe can help promote healthy skin and hair. A deficiency of biotin can lead to skin problems, such as rashes, ache, psoriasis, dermatitis and overall itchiness.

* Carrots:

Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which fights against sunburns, cell death, and wrinkles. Vitamin A also adds a healthy, warm glow to your skin.

You can get vitamin A by consuming provitamin A through fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. Your body then converts beta-carotene into vitamin A to protect your skin from the sun.

Provitamin A can also be found in oranges, spinach, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, bell peppers, broccoli and more.

* Dark Chocolate:

Dark chocolate is beneficial for your skin because cocoa powder boasts a bunch of antioxidants. These antioxidants hydrate and smoothen your skin, making your skin less sensitive to sunburn and improves the blood flow of your skin. Make a healthy choice by opting for a bar of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa for more antioxidants and lesser added sugar.

* Green Tea:

Green tea has been said to protect the skin against external stressors and ageing. This is because it is antioxidant-rich and contains catechins that protect your skin, reduce redness, increase hydration, and improve elasticity.

A diet rich in antioxidants along with adequate hydration may even out your skin texture, strengthen your skin barrier and improve your overall skin health.

Avoid adding milk to green tea as the combination can reduce the effects of the antioxidants present in green tea.

Additional tips for healthy skin…

Don’t forget to stay hydrated because water plays a big part in the appearance of your skin. Water ensures your skin has enough moisture, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also helps with nutrient absorption, removal of toxins and blood circulation.

Besides food and water, it is important to observe proper hygiene. This means no touching your face until you’ve washed your hands. Your hands carry more bacteria than you think and the occasional touch here and there can add up. After a long day out, cleanse your face thoroughly.

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