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Festival of life and human fraternity

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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.



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UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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