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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI

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by Chandra Arulpragasm

As a disclaimer, I need to state that I am not a Catholic, although a Christian. Nor do I claim to have walked in the spiritual footsteps of this man of God. I seek only to narrate my own experiences when I tried to trace the physical footsteps of St. Francis during his peregrinations in Italy. I must also state that whereas St. Francis walked all the way up and down the Umbrian and Tuscan Apennines in the summer sun and the rainy cold of winter, I had the relative luxury of doing the same journeys by car. I had this opportunity only because I happened to live in Italy for many years. For readers who know little of St. Francis of Assisi, I provide a brief biography, but only as background to my personal story of following the physical footsteps of this remarkable saint.

St. Francis was born in 1811 to the family of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi in the province of Umbria, near the Tuscan border. He was named ‘Francesco’ (little Frenchman) because of his French mother. He grew up among the idle rich, spending his youth in carousing and rowdy partying. Although his father wanted him to follow in the footsteps of his successful cloth trade, Francis only wanted glory at that time, in pursuance of which, he set out for the Crusades. But he already seemed to be undergoing a spiritual transformation. For he had hardly gone a few miles from his home, when seeing a poorly clad beggar in Spoleto, he stripped off his expensive clothes to wrap them around the beggar. (There is a graphic painting of this scene in Assisi). He was thus compelled to return to his family in shame and dishonour, for which his father never forgave him.

Meanwhile, his spiritual proclivities increased and he spent more time in prayer and penance. One day, while praying before an old Byzantine crucifix in the abandoned church of San Damiano in the woods, he believed that he heard the voice of Christ speaking to him from the cross asking him ‘to repair my church’. (I still have a small copy of this crucifix in my room).Taking the words literally, St. Francis soon went to work to repair the decrepit old Church of San Damiano with his own hands, brick by brick. It was only later that he realized that the call was to repair the mission and fabric of the Catholic Church, which was fast losing its way through wealth and corruption.

Taking to heart Christ’s teaching, he embraced the vow of poverty, assuming the model of poverty and service to Christ by tending to the spiritual and physical needs of the poor. He was a happy man doing God’s work, singing all the while, even when derided in the early days as being ‘God’s Fool’. Despite untold hardships, he and his twelve early followers were able to attract 5,000 friars to their calling within a period of 10 years. Being a born leader, Francis even went to the Church in Rome where, through his sincerity and holiness, he was able to convince Pope Innocent III to initiate a Franciscan Order, pledged to the ideals of poverty and service to God. Francis was not a rebel against his own Church: he was only trying to restore it to its original values of Christ’s teaching. It is heartening to see that the new Pope, Francis I has not only taken the name of Francis, but is also trying to do the same for the ideals and direction of the church. St. Francis stressed God’s brotherhood with man, with all people, rich or poor. In fact, he widened this spiritual embrace to all creation, including the birds of the air, the beasts of the field and to the entire universe. It is for this wider vision that he is now acclaimed as the patron saint of animals, the environment and indeed of all nature itself.

I now try to paint a picture of his life, as revealed to me by following in his physical footsteps. I start with St. Francis in his little church of the Porziuncola, which is associated with the start of his ministry. The Porziuncola was the shell of a little old church dedicated to St. Mary of the Angels, which Francis restored with his own hands. It is here that he later gathered his followers to start his small Order of Friars Minor. It is also the place where he received Clare (later Santa Chiara) into the service of God. The Porziuncola itself is very small, measuring barely 11 x 7 metres. Although gracefully adorned with paintings and frescoes, it is its stunning spiritual vibration that takes one’s breath away. It has made an indelible impression on me, compelling me to return to its spiritual space (the Proziuncola) repeatedly. It was also the place closest to St. Francis’ heart. On his deathbed, he was brought here and actually died within yards of it. Today this unassuming little church is covered by the massive Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels), which not only dwarfs but almost devours it. Nowadays one has to navigate this great and graceless Basilica to get to its vibrant spiritual heart, the Porziuncola. But it is still a visit worth making.

From there we go again to San Damiano, a church restored with Francis’ own hands. It was during these visits to the woods that he started communing with the birds and composed his famous canticle to the birds. He asked them to praise the Lord for their freedom to fly, for not having to sow or weave in order to feed and clothe themselves. Completely blind in his dying days, he composed his famous Canticle to the Sun in which he praises all God’s Creation, including Brothers Sun, Moon and Stars, Brothers Wind, Fire and Water, praising them all as part of God’s Creation. It is this universality of humankind and its bond with the rest of the universe that has made him the patron saint of nature and the environment.

Adjoining the Church of San Damiano is the nunnery where Santa Chiara (St. Clare) lived in a single-room dormitory with her sister-nuns for more than 30 years. In her last years, afflicted with tuberculosis, she moved to an adjoining room with a balcony. It is from this balcony that she is reputed to have stopped the invading armies of Frederick II and later of Muslim invaders by holding up the monstrance (the host) while praying for God’s intervention. (This scene is captured in a famous painting in Assisi). Most touching of all is the refectory table where the mark of St. Clare’s plate for 40 years has left a deep indent in the 700 hundred year old table! A bowl of fresh flowers marks the spot, as a poignant reminder of her dedicated life. The nuns’ quarters also possessed a picturesque cloister, around which the sisters walked in meditation. Their cloistered courtyard still holds the 13thcentury well from which they drew their water.

Much of St. Francis’ life is brought to life by the frescoes and paintings which adorn the walls of the Basilica in Assisi. No attempt is made here to describe this treasure trove of religious art, since the reader can access it in any travel book. Hence reference will only be made to a few which illustrate particular aspects of his saintly life. The Basilica of St. Francis is actually comprised of three parts: the Upper Basilica, the Lower Basilica and the Crypt, where the remains of the saint lie buried. The Lower Basilica contains a number of frescoes and paintings, including one by the 13th century master Cimabue, who lived closest to Francis’ time. Unfortunately these frescoes are fading away; but we do have a contemporary 13th century portrait of St. Francis by Cimabue (a copy of which I still retain in my room). The Lower Basilica also contains the painting by Pietro Lorenzetti known as the Madonna of the Sunset because a wayward ray of light from the setting sun finds its way into the dark interior to light up this picture in brilliant gold. (My wife and I retained a framed copy of this painting in our bedroom for over 30 years). The Upper Basilica has the famous frescoes of St. Francis, attributed to Giotto, including especially his communion with the birds. The frescoes go on to illustrate further events in St. Francis’ life, including his receipt of the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in his own body.

There is also a painting of St. Francis’ encounter with the fierce wolf of Gubbio. The latter is a picturesque medieval town near the border of Umbria with Abruzzo, quite far from St. Francis’ usual haunts. It is a completely walled-off town, with steep cobbled streets which it strives to keep alive in its medieval splendour. It is said that in St. Francis’ time, a savage wolf used to attack the villagers, even carrying off little children to feed itself. When St. Francis visited this village, the people beseeched him to save them from this ravenous wolf. Addressing the animal as ‘Brother Wolf’, Francis was able to pacify it. He is even said to have made a pact between the wolf and the village, whereby the wolf undertook not to harm the villagers, while they undertook to feed and look after it. The wolf ultimately died of old age, as the village pet! There is even a painting of St. Francis accosting the wolf at the entrance to the town. Today the town of Gubbio is touted to tourists as a medieval town that is frozen in time. Archery contests are held here in imitation of old times, with the men dressed in medieval costumes unfurling their different cantonal flags, while the women parade the streets in their medieval finery. Heralds with banners and trumpets issue the challenge of Gubbio to an archery contest (on parchment written in 15th century style) to other medieval towns such as Sienna and San Marino. Then the rival archers, armed with old-style crossbows (but jazzed up with high-tech telescopic sights) vie with each other in the highly decorated central piazza. It is a lot of fun – and attracts much tourism.

My main interest centered, however, around St. Francis’ activities in La Verna. The latter was hardly habited in St. Francis’ time, being set in woodland forests littered with mountains and caves. It is a long 123 km climb from Assisi, climbing high into the Apennines of Tuscany through many miles and mountains of slippery slopes in winter rains. St. Francis used to spend some months each year meditating and praying in these caves. There are many stories about those times, one of which is about a hawk that used to fly into his cave to wake him up at 3 o’clock every morning. Instead of upbraiding the hawk, St. Francis sang an ode thanking ‘Brother Hawk’ for waking him up in time to praise the Lord! There was also a rough robber named Rufino (Rufus) who came to rob Francis while he was praying. Francis spoke to Rufus in words to this effect: ‘Brother, I have no money to give you; but come pray with me, so that you will find even greater riches in the Lord’. So Rufino knelt and prayed with Francis, and thereafter became his staunchest follower. So much so that Brother Rufus is now buried opposite the Saint in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

The whole area of La Verna is heavily wooded, adding to its sylvan beauty. Nearby is a Franciscan Sanctuary with its white-pillared arcade set into the side of a hill, while fluttering white turtle-doves provide a further peaceful picture. On the adjoining hill lies La Verna with its Basilica of the Sanctuary of La Verna. My wife and I have been visiting La Verna for 20 years (till we left Italy) when the place was unheard of and largely deserted. Now it has been built up with so many additional buildings, including tourist accommodation.

When we were reconnoitering around, we chanced upon a small cell in which St. Anthony, also of the Franciscan Order, used to meditate and pray during his stay at La Verna. It was a very small cell, hardly 8 ft x 8 ft, but with a wonderful view of the valley below. On walking farther on the hilltop, we stumbled upon an embedded rock whose writing proclaimed it to be the spot where St. Francis received the stigmata or wounds of the crucified Christ. The stigmata are wounds of nail-pierced hands and feet like those of Christ, with an added wound on the side. St. Francis was the first person to receive such a manifestation of his faith, but suffered greatly from these wounds.

Walking farther on the hill, we came across a quaint little chapel, seemingly frozen in time. Not knowing what it was, we nosed our way into its dim interior. It is now known as the Chapel of the Stigmata. We just had time to note the ornate choir stalls when we heard the sound of sonorous chanting in the distance, but coming ever closer to us. Soon a little old friar bustled in, fissy-fussing to tidy up before the oncoming procession. He almost died of shock to see us there: for no one was supposed to be there, least of all a woman (my wife). Although outraged, he could not chase us out into the path of the oncoming chanting procession. Not knowing what to do, he shoved us behind a narrow curtain and hushed us with fierce warning signs. Soon the procession entered. Not being a church man, I had never seen the likes of this before, and stood transfixed! The monks had apparently taken the vow of silence, coming out of their cells once a day to this chapel to sing praises to their Lord. They filed in two by two, heavily cowled so that one could not see their faces, looking rather sinister to me in the dimly lit church. There was pin-drop silence, except for their deep Gregorian chants. Entering the chapel, the monks peeled off to the left and to the right in well-known order, with each side taking its stand in the ornate choir stalls facing each other. Their faces could not be seen, nor was any word spoken: their leader only called out a line and the friars chanted their response. After about 20 minutes, they suddenly stopped without any word or sign, and peeled off in formation with cowled heads bowed, one following the heel of the other, with no word spoken! It left me breathless! It was not long, however, before the officious little friar descended upon us, berating us for our intrusion on this sacred ritual. It was an experience, however, that I will never forget.

And so we come to the death of this immortal saint. He was ailing for a long time, blind and suffering from his stigmatized wounds. In death, he wanted to be brought to his beloved Porziuncola, his spiritual home, where he was attended by his spiritual partner St. Clare (Santa Chiara). In his dying days he composed his wonderful Canticle to the Sun, which is a song of praise for God’s whole creation. He died in the year 1226 at the age of 44 and was canonized two years later. The government of Assisi had to send soldiers to guard his remains, for in the medieval superstition of those days, everyone wanted a piece of the saint! Thus ended the earthly life of this saintly man, whose physical footsteps I was privileged to follow. I can only conclude with the prayer attributed to St. Francis: a prayer relevant to all religions and one which I continue to keep by my bedside:

 

Lord, make me the instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, the truth; Where there is doubt, the faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek To be comforted as to comfort; To be understood, as to understand; To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

(The writer, a member of the former Ceylon Civil Service, lived in Italy working for the FAO in Rome for many years)



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HEART TO HEART TRUST FUND

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receives a donation from Australia

‘Mighty of Heart, mighty of mind, magnanimous – to be this, is indeed to be great in life’ sums up the life of Mauri Antoinette Clare Sendapperuma.

We were elated beyond words when we were informed that a Sri Lankan domiciled in Australia had left over AUD 94,820/= (over 13 million rupees) in her last will to be donated to the Heart To Heart Trust Fund. To us, who have been involved in the journey of the Trust Fund and experienced the joys and the sorrows of people who would give anything to have a second chance at life, Miss Sendapperuma’s generosity was like being touched by an angel.

Born on 31st March 1954 in Colombo, Mauri was educated in a convent school, Good Shepherd Convent, Colombo, and was an accountant by profession. Her young days had been spent joyfully in the service of the Lord in her church, St Lucia’s Cathedral, until in 1989, she migrated to Melbourne, Australia, where she worked for leading corporates in the energy industry. Mauri passed away on 11th December 2019 following complications from Heart Aortic Valve Replacement surgery.

In a true mark of greatness, Mauri had given up a successful career to take up volunteer work, doing so at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. According to her family, she had always looked forward to her volunteering days, and often talked about how giving her time to the hospital fulfilled her, and that she felt as though she was part of a close family.

Mauri has ensured that kindness and generosity extended beyond her earthly life. And by giving back to her country, she has given hope to individuals suffering from heart related diseases and seeking a new lease in life. We at the Heart To Heart Trust Fund know not how Mauri came to know of us and our work with individuals suffering from heart diseases. But this we know – that Mauri had an open heart and a love that represented the God she served since she was a child.

The Heart to Heart Trust Fund is a Charitable Trust functioning under the patronage of the Head of State – and co-founded by leading Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Rajitha Y de Silva and his mentor the eminent Senior Consultant Cardiologist, Dr. Ruvan Ekanayaka, who are guided by a Board of Trustees, made up of an eminent group of persons, and a beautiful group of individuals who have wholeheartedly volunteered to support and execute the good cause with the objective that ‘Nobody should die or suffer from heart diseases due to financial difficulties in this country.’

The Board of Trustees is composed of both medical and non medical persons who represent various professional fields such as law, medicine, diplomacy, corporate business and the social sciences.

Representing the medical field on the Board are

 

1. Dr. Ruvan Ekanayaka, Senior Consultant Cardiologist,

2. Dr. Rajitha Y de Silva, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon,

3. Dr. Aruna Kapuruge, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon,

4. Dr. Mahendra Munasinghe, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon,

5. Dr. Kanishka Indraratne, Consultant Cardiac Anaesthetist,

6. Dr. Kumudini Ranatunga – Senior Consultant Cardio-thoracic Anaesthetist and Intensivist, NHSL

7. Prof. S D Jayarante, the Chairman, Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital (Ex-Officio).

 

The non medical persons representing other disciplines and professions on the Board are

 

8. Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, former UN Under-Secretary-General,

9. Palitha Fernando PC, former Attorney General,

10. Arunashantha De Silva PC, Former Legal Draftsman,

11. Mahendra Amarasuriya, Senior Banker, Philanthropist and Former International President, Lions Club International 2007/08,

12. Dr Kumari Jayawardena, Author/Social Worker,

13. Sudath Tennakoon, Chairman, Central Bearings,

14. Lt. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Dias, former Chief of Staff, Sri Lanka Army,

15. Sunimal Fernando, Senior Sociologist,

16. Deshamanya Ajita De Zoysa, Chairman of Kalutara Bodhi Trust and Musaeus College

17. Kumar Sangakkara, Captain Sri Lanka Cricket 2009-2011 and President of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) who also guide the trust fund while representing diverse fields of specialisation.

 

When somebody is having a heart disease is a matter of life and death where a price tag is attached to his/her life. The fact that Mauri recognised the work of the Trust Fund among those in need of critical treatment but are unable to obtain timely intervention due to financial difficulties shows that she has been following our work closely. She definitely knew the importance of lending a helping hand to patients, because in Australia all health services including complex cardiac procedures are provided free to all, irrespective of income and social status.

Over the initial six- and a half-year period, we have been able to save more than 300 lives. These are individuals who have undergone various procedures and have been eventually reunited with their families and society, and are today living normal and fruitful lives. The surgical procedures carried out included CABG (Bypass surgery), cardiac surgeries, and procedures to insert stents and pacemakers, which were carried out at the Sri Jayewardenapura General Hospital as well as in other hospitals in the last few years and its accounts are annually audited by M/s Ernst and Young. Being a Trust Fund, ensuring transparency of our operations at all levels and maintaining a high level of integrity are a virtue held high and we trust that our impeccable track record has been an immense help for our success thus far.

We believe strongly that “prevention is better than cure”, hence part of our endeavour at the Heart To Heart Trust Fund is to teach and educate people whenever possible to embrace a healthy lifestyle in order to reduce the incidents of heart disease. We target all age groups, but children are a vital group of our focus, as growing up, they can make choices to live healthily. Therefore, we focus a great deal on disseminating knowledge on the importance of prevention.  

Given the yeoman service rendered by the Trust Fund thus far, Mauri’s generosity to the present, gives hope to the future; to the future of not just the individual who benefits from her kindness, but the dependents who will bless her name many times as they receive their loved one back into their fold in a state of restored health.

Although we at the Heart To Heart Trust Fund did not know Mauri during her lifetime, her memory will remain with us and we will bless her name each time we think of her when we save a life.

As we appreciate the generosity of a Sri Lankan, and remember the countless who have supported the Trust Fund for so many years, in numerous ways, we know that none of them expected anything in return, and in giving, none of them became poor, but became richer in compassion and humanity. 

“Before giving, the mind of the giver is happy; while giving, the mind of the giver is made peaceful; and having given, the mind of the giver is uplifted”

Gautama Buddha

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says “do good, lend, and expect nothing in return and your reward will be great” (6:35), and indeed we know that Mauri’s reward in heaven is great as she has been received with great joy by her Creator who would have welcomed her with open arms saying “Come to me….I will give you rest” (Mathew 11:28).

May her soul rest in peace!

 

A tribute from the Heart To Heart Trust Fund

(Tel: +94 77 734 4410
Email: heart2hearttrustfund@gmail.com
Website: www.heart2hearttrust.org)

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Patrick Kodikara:A Sri Lankan’s action in UK Labour and minority movements

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By Lucien Rajakarunanayake

Britain has certainly given higher education and a political background to many leaders of the left movement in Sri Lanka. The colonial period saw many who qualified for higher education moving to Britain.  The rise of left-wing politics and socialism in Britain at that time, led many to formulate their anti-colonial and socialist thinking, bringing important changes to the political leadership in Ceylon.

Some well-remembered names are  N. M. Perera, Colvin R de Silva, Leslie Goonewardena, Pieter Keunamen, and S. A Wickremesinghe, among many others. who gave guidance and leadership to the emerging left movement here, and the rising call for Independence. The leftists certainly wanted a more meaningful independence, than those of the right.

Recently, we saw the demise of Patrick Kodikara, a Sri Lankan who played a significant role in the activities of the UK Labour movement, the Labour Party, the movements for Black People’s Rights, against Race and Sex Discrimination in the UK, as well as strengtening the faith and credibility of the Police with a more socialist attitude in Police Management. It was certainly a rare turnaround towards leftwing activity by a citizen of this former colony, in the homeland of the colonizers.

Patrick Kodikara, was from Negombo, with his father in the Public Service. He was educated at  St. Joseph’s College, Maradana and later at the Aquinas University College, where he passed the GCE Advanced Level (UK) in Economics and History. For a brief period he was a teacher at the then Kolonnawa Vidyalaya, (now the Terence de Silva Maha Vidyalaya, Kolonnawa). With his emerging leftwing thinking he was glad that Kolonnawa Vidyala was founded by Terence de Zilva, a strong anti-colonial activist, the first Joint Secretary of the Suriyamal Movement.  It was first named the Suriya Vidyalaya, burnt down by pro-colonial, right wing opponents. 

At Aquinas he was one of a strong left thinking activist group that included Vasudeva Nanayakkara, late Devapriya Jayawardena (Priya), himself, and this writer.

He joined the Health Department as a trainee in psycho-social activity, and won a scholarship to the UK to continue his studies and training. He entered the London School of Economics in the early 60s, gained his first degree and a diploma in Applied Social Studies. His initial work was in Singapore from 1965, a three year course in Social Services, and  returned to the UK in 1968, becoming Head Social Worker at Friern Barnet Psychiatric Hospital. 

From 1970 to 75, Patrick served as a Senior Social Worker at the Hackney Social Services in London, when he obtained his MA in social planning from Essex University. His work in Social Service activities with the Southwark Social Services, and as a Divisional Officer of Tower Hamlets Social Services, brought to him the call for wider community activity. This saw him move to the left movement with the UK’s Labour Party.

His activities with the communities on major social issues affecting the people, saw his election as a Hackney Councillor from 1978, and continued work with Labour activists. This included mass protests and activities for minorities in the UK, and saw him lined up for possible selection as a candidate to Parliament from the Labour Party for Hackney Central, showing his wide popular support. He lost a parliamentary nomination by just one vote.

He has been a leader of strikes, protest occupations of public buildings and specially the Centre Point occupation in 1974 – an over 30-storey building left empty for several years as a speculative investment — in the context of increasing homelessness for the people of London.

The steady deterioration of race relations in the UK, especially in London, saw Patrick moving to Labour activism against it. He led two delegations to the Metropolitan Police to discuss relations with the police and black people. He also led a delegation to the Home Office on this issue, but the official position against minorities remained stronger. The Sunday Times (UK) quoted Kodikara in July 1980, stating: “…I have learnt that these organizations are a total con as far as black people are concerned. They give a comfortable feeling that something is being done. It’s not true, the situation is worsening, Racial harmony must have a precondition — and that is equality.”

In April 1978, Patrick was among the leaders of a mass Anti-Nazi League protest rally against racism and fascism, in London, which had a participation of more than 80,000 people.  

The prevailing situation led Patrick and some other black leaders to think of a black civil rights movement, which was later announced, and became an important pro-minority political movement in the coming years. The new movement began to campaign for the rights of Britain’s three million blacks – that they must also be accounted and reassured.

Among his achievements as a community and Labour activist were the changes to the Adoption and Fostering Policy — seeking to find a placement for children among parents of the  same race and religion, wherever possible. He was also associated with moves to change the Positive Action clauses  in the Race and Sex Discrimination Acts, the creation of new Social Work Training Posts to specifically train black and ethnic minority Social Workers, and among local councils to change the racial basis of employment  to reflect the community it served.

Patrick had an active and leadership role in formulating Labour policies for the control of the Police and policing policies, that sought the removal of the Met Police from the Home Office.   

He was also Chairman of the Hackney Council for Racial Equality, which was actively probing alleged wrong activities of the police relating to race and ethnicity.

He did have a lot of criticism of the left leaders here, after the failure of the United Front that saw the LSSP and CP join the SLFP/MEP. He regretted the steady decline of the left with a rise in extremist nationalism in the post-1956 trend of politics, and then the move to separatism and terrorism.

He joined he Bangladesh Community of Brick Lane – East End, London, after the stabbing to death of a member in a small park opposite the Whitechapel Art Gallery.   The park was eventually renamed – Altab Ali Park, after the deceased.

He was a very active member of the National Front for Racial Equality calling for ‘Black and White Unite and Fight’, and took the stage as the main speaker at many anti-racist meetings and other events.

From the late 1970s to 80s Patrick was also a strong trade unionist with emphasis on racial equality relating to the rights of workers in the UK. 

His pro-worker and employee work in the UK was known to many trade unionists in Sri Lanka, and to Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he was appointed Minister of Labour in 1994. Patrick had by then returned to Sri Lanka. Minister Rajapaksa contacted Patrick and sought his advice on pro-worker activities, to raise the standards of labour in the country. He was appointed a Consultant to the Ministry of Labour on formulating a National Policy on Vocational Training.  

A comprehensive programme was prepared by Patrick, and a team associated with him, relating to many aspects and needs for training based on the diverse social and economic situations of those in Labour and  Vocations, considering ethnic and even caste divisions that affects those seeking betterment through employment. This programme has been continued by the successive ministers of labour, and is part of the core aspects of Vocational Training under the ministry.

He spent more than a decade in friendly retirement in Sri Lanka, with knowledgeable help to those engaged in social betterment and advancement here. A man of good humour he always shared a laugh on both social and political issues. 

The Easter Sunday carnage on April 21 in 2019, saw his birthday turn into the bloodiest tragedy. Living in Negombo, the subsequent Covid-19 lockdowns and transport blocks made him sadly isolated from friends in many months of near isolation; but kept alive with plenty of humour amidst the tragedies of that Easter Sunday and the pandemic that prevailed. 

His record of service to the underprivileged and ethnic minorities in the UK is memorable. 

His demise was on January 24 this year. This is written to remember him as we approach what would have been his 83rd birthday, on April 21; when Patrick’s record of commitment to service to the people and humour in life will not be forgotten.

 

 

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Some incomprehensible lapses in Easter Attack Commission Report

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By Kalyananda Tiranagama

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Easter Sunday Attack (PCoI) had the difficult and challenging task of going through a vast amount of evidence, both oral and documentary, of several hundred witnesses, identifying the persons and organizations involved in the attack and the circumstances that brought about the situation culminating in the attack, and the political leaders and state officials whose dereliction of duty and responsibility resulting in the failure to take necessary action to prevent the attack in time and making necessary recommendations for taking legal action against them and for preventing recurrence of such situations.

In its Final Report submitted to the government, the PCoI had made a large number of relevant, important, useful and implementable recommendations, some of which the government has already taken steps to implement such as arresting some of the persons and proscribing some organizations mentioned therein. The Commission has done a commendable job by presenting this report.

While the Commission was conducting its inquiries summoning witnesses and recording their evidence at length giving wide publicity through the media, the people of the country expected that the Commission would identify all the culprits responsible for the attack, not only those who carried out the terrorist acts, but all those who were involved in or contributed to it directly or indirectly in various ways by facilitating, aiding and abetting, providing financial, material or moral support, within the country and from outside, to the terrorist group that carried out the attack; the links they had with communalist Muslim political parties and their leaders; and the foreign involvements in the attack. The people also expected it to identify the political leaders and public officials accountable for this attack by their failure to take necessary action to prevent it even after having received information in advance and deal with them according to law.

However, when a person with some legal background reads this report with an analytical mind, one finds that there are several incomprehensible lapses, omissions and lacunae in it. The purpose of this article is to point out some of the lapses that one would come across while going through this report.

 

Persons directly connected to terrorist attacks

In its Final Report the Commission has identified 14 persons as persons directly connected with the terrorist acts that took place on Easter Sunday. Out of them 11 persons are dead:

 

Zaharan and Ilham Ibrahim – suicide bombers in Shangrila attack;

Inshaf Ibrahim – Cinnamon Grand bomber; Mubarak – Kingsbury bomber;

Jameel – Dehiwala Tropical Inn bomber; Muath – Kochchikade bomber;

Hasthun – Katuwapitiya bomber;

Azad – Batticaloa Zion Church bomber;

Rilwan, Shaini and Niyas – died in Saindumarudu explosion.

 

Only three persons remain in custody to be prosecuted:”

(i)

Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed Naufer – who has lectured on IS ideology and its activities in all the training camps conducted by Zaharan group;

(ii) (ii) Hayathu Mohammadu Ahamadu Milhan – who has acted as the weapons trainer in about 12 training camps conducted by Zaharan, played a key role in establishing the training camp at Wanathavilluwa and preparing explososives and procuring chemicals for the manufacture of bombs and taken part in the killing of two Police officers at Vavunativu in November 2018.

(iii) (iii) Mohomed Ibrahim Sadeeq Abdulla – an active member of Jamaath Islamia Students Movement (SLJISM), who had gone to Syria via Turkey in 2014 and undergone arms training; and participated in two training camps conducted by Zaharan and conducted some more camps in 2017 and 2018 on his own.

 

Persons and Organisations that contributed to terrorist acts

The PCoI has identified

the following as organizations and persons that contributed to the terrorist attacks by aiding and abetting actions which caused racial and religious disturbances or by giving support to such acts within the country and created public unrest and disturbed social order:

(i) Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami (SLJI)

SLJI is an organization working on the same ideology as Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization banned in Egypt, and having close connections with persons and organizations having the same ideology in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, India and Pakistan. The final goal of the SLJI is establishment of an Islam state in Sri Lanka. The official publication of SLJI, Al Hassanat has over the years carried articles glorifying jihad. In February 1990 it has published an article stating that the establishment of an Islamic state cannot be done without waging jihad. In November 1999 it has carried an editorial criticizing the worshipping of statues and praising those who break them. In February 2001 it has published an article extolling people who sacrifice their lives for Islam and stating that they will be given 72 virgins in heaven. In June 2008 it has stated quoting Egyptian terrorist Al Qardawi that a suicide attack is a great act of jihad. It has established Arabic Schools in Madampe, Mawanella and Kalkudah. At the Arabic School in Madampe students were taught about the establishment of an Islamic state and it was compulsory to learn to fight with weapons – P. 227 – 228.

 

(ii) Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami Students Movement (SLJISM)

SLJISM is the students’ wing of the SLJI. Many of the participants in training programmes conducted by Zaharan and several of the suspects in custody over the Easter Sunday attacks are members of the SLJI. About 15 members of the SLJISM are in custody over the Easter attack, some of them have gone to Syria for arms training and Mufees, the person who provided the land at Wanathavilluwa where explosives and weapons found was a member of SLJISM. – P. 238

The COI has recommended proscription of SLJI and SLJISM.

Persons:

(i) Ahamed Talib Lukman Thalib (father);

(ii) (ii) Lukman Thalib Ahamed (son) – 2 persons of Sri Lankan origin domiciled in Australia –who have facilitated several members of SLJISM to proceed to Syria via Turkey for arms training;

(iii) (iii) one Rimsan, a Sri Lankan connected to Al Qaida. The COI has recommended in the on-going criminal investigations to examine their role, if any, in the Easter Sunday attacks.

(iv) Rasheed Hajjul Akbar – the leader of SLJI from 1994 till August 2018. He was a member of the Shura Council of the SLJI. Hajjul Akbar is one of the main ideologists of Islamic extremism in Sri Lanka, promoting religious hatred and intolerance, application of Sharia law and establishing an Islamic state in Sri Lanka. Under his leadership, the official journal of SLJI Al Hassanat has published articles promoting extremism and terrorism. He had been arrested by the CCD on August 25, 2019 and released on September 27, 2019. His younger brother is Moulavi Rasheed Mohamed Ibrahim. Moulavi Ibrahim and his two sons Sadeek Abdulla and Shahid Abdulla are in custody for damaging Buddha statues in Mawanella in December 2018. The COI has recommended the AG to consider instituting criminal action against Rasheed Hajjul Akbar for conspiring to establish an Islamic state in Sri Lanka.

(v) Dr. Muhamad Zufyan Muhamad Zafras – working at the National Hospital, Colombo who has helped Zaharan’s brother Rilwan to get admitted to Colombo National Hospital for treatment as a person injured in a gas cylinder blast, hiding the fact that he was injured in a blast while experimenting with explosives. The COI has recommended the AG to consider instituting criminal action against Dr. Zafras under S. 5 of the PTA for withholding information.

 

Accountability of Authorities for Failure to Prevent Attacks

Political Authorities

As for the political authorities in government accountable for the failure to prevent the terrorist attacks, the PCoI has found only President Maithripala Sirisena accountable: President Maithripala Sirisena – failed in his duties and responsibilities, transcending beyond mere civil negligence – P 263. There is criminal liability on his part for the acts or omissions mentioned therein and the COI recommends the Attorney General instituting criminal action under the Penal Code against him. -P 265

 

Senior Public Officers

The COI has recommended the AG to consider instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision against three senior public officers:

(i)

Secretary Defence Hemasiri Fernando – P. 284;

(ii)

DIG Sisira Mendis, Chief of National Intelligence – P. 285;

(iii)

SDIG Nilantha Jayawardane, Director, State Intelligence Service – P, 288.

 

Law Enforcement Officers

Out of the Law Enforcement Officers held accountable by the PCoI for their failure to take necessary steps to prevent the attacks in their respective areas, recommendation has been made only against the Inspector General of Police Pujitha Jayasundara for the AG to consider instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision. – P. 308

In respect of 6 other Police Officers recommendation has been made for the AG to consider instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision or S. 82 of the Police Ordinance. The following Police Officers belong to this category:

(i)

SDIG Nandana Munasinghe – Western Province – P. 312;

(ii)

SP Sanjeewa Bandara – Superintendant of Police, Colombo North – P. 314;

(iii)

SSP Negombo – Chandana Athukorala – P. 315;

(iv)

SP B. E. I. Prasanna, Western Province Intelligence Division – P. 315;

(v)

Chief Inspector Sarath Kumarasinghe, Acting OIC, Fort Police Station – P.320;

(vi)

Chief Inspector Sagara Wilegoda Liyanage, OIC, Fort

 

The AG has the option of instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision or under S. 82 of the Police Ordinance. If the AG decides to institute action under S. 82 of the Police Ordinance, they will not be indicted and there will be no criminal proceedings against them. They will be charged in the Magistrate’s Court for breach of duty under S. 82 of the Police Ordinance:

S. 82 :– Every Police officer (a) guilty of any violation of duty or wilful breach or neglect of any regulations and lawful orders of other competent authority – shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding three month’s pay, or to imprisonment with or without hard labour, for period not exceeding three months, or both.

 

Against three other Police Officers only disciplinary inquiry has been recommended:

(i)

DIG Deshbandu Tennekone, Colombo North;

(ii)

Negombo ASP Sisila Kumara;

(iii)

Chaminda Nawaratne, OIC, Katana

 

Accountability of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the Cabinet of Ministers

 

As for the responsibility and failures of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe no such recommendation, as made against the President, has been made.

It appears from the following observations of the PCoI that it has shown a very lenient attitude towards the failures of the Prime Minister. The report states: ‘The reasons for the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s inability to attend meetings of the National Security Council when fixed at short notice due to other commitments – acceptable; Though he did not explain why he did not stay on for some of full meetings, this taken in isolation is insufficient to make any adverse findings against him – P. 268; There are other instances reflecting lenient approach on his part to national security issues: No positive action taken to prevent Wahabi violence against traditional Sufi Muslim community though he was aware of it; Did not accept army intelligence presentations about the rising Islam extremism in the country, particularly in the East – P. 270; He opposed the issue of banning nikab and burkha raised by the Army Commander at the National Security Council without consulting Muslim parties – P. 271; Govt. did not ban IS organization in Sri Lanka as there were no reports stating IS propaganda taking place in Sri Lanka, only reports of individuals spreading IS ideology; It was corroborated by several witnesses that the Govt was reluctant to take strong action against rising Islamic extremism due to its dependence on support of Muslim political parties.’

 

However, the Report states: ‘The lax approach of the Prime Minister towards Islam extremism was one of the primary reasons for the failure on the part of the government to take proactive steps towards Islam extremism. This facilitated the build-up of Islam extremism to the point of Easter Sunday attacks.’ – P. 277

If it is so, why no action is recommended against Prime Minister Ranil?

It has totally ignored the fact that, though Maithripala Sirisena was the President, the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe had the effective control of the entire government in his hands under the 19th Amendment, controlling the Cabinet and the Parliament.

Sagala Ratnayake, a close confidante of the Prime Minister in the UNP, was the Minister of Law and Order in charge of the Police.

 

The Accountability of the Cabinet of Ministers

The PCoI has not given its mind as to whether the Cabinet of Ministers has contributed in any manner to the terrorist attack by its failure to discharge its Constitutional responsibility. When it examined the accountability of the President and the Prime Minister, one finds it difficult to understand why it did not examine the accountability of the governemtn headed by the Cabinet of Ministers, especially in view of the relevant provisions in Article 42 of the Constitution and the evidence placed before it.

Article 42 (1) There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers charged with the direction and control of the government of the Republic;

(2) The Cabinet of Ministers shall be collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament;

(3) The President shall be a member the Cabinet of Ministers and shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers.

IGP Pujitha Jayasundara sent the communication received from Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardana, Head of the State Intelligence Services and from Sisira Mendis, the Chief of National Intelligence containing detailed information warning about a threat of possible terrorist attack by ISIS terrorists in Sri Lanka received from Indian Intelligence sources with a note stating ‘FNA’ on 09. 04. 2019 itself to four Senior Police Officers: i. SDIG Western Province – Nandana Munasinghe; ii. SDIG Crimes, Organized Crimes and STF – M. Latheef; iii. SDIG Special Protection Range – Priyalal Dasanayake; iv. Director – Counter Terrorism Investigation Division – Waruna Jayasundara – P. 303.

Special Protection Range is the Ministerial Security Division (MSD) which provides security to Ministers of the Cabinet. It was reported in the media that SDIG Priyalal Dasanayake, giving evidence before the Commission, stated that he had conveyed the information received of the threat of possible terrorist attack to all the officers of the Ministerial Security Division on April 9, 2019 itself.

Of the four Senior Officers who received the said communication from the IGP, the PCoI has recommended to the AG to consider instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision or S. 82 of the Police Ordinance against SDIG Western Province – Nandana Munasinghe;. – P. 312. As for the conduct of SDIG Crimes, Organized Crimes and Commander STF – M. Latheef, the Report contains the following comment: ‘When the COI queried the steps taken with regard to it (the IGP’s communication) the response was that he got in touch with the Indian High Commission and provided security to it. However, it is surprising as to why he did not instruct his intelligence units to work on the intelligence received.’ – P. 309. No recommendation made against him.

However, the final report does not mention anything about the steps taken by SDIG Priyalal Dasanayake on the information conveyed to him. It does not show whether COI made any query as to whether the officers of the Ministerial Security Division conveyed the information received by them to the Ministers to whom they provide security and the reaction of the Ministers concerned. This is highly relevant and a serious lacuna in the report. One cannot expect or believe that none of the officers of the Ministerial Security Division conveyed this information received by them to any of the Ministers. At least we know that Minister Harin Fernando’s father had got this information from a Police officer, and that he conveyed it to his son preventing him from going to church on that fateful day.

The entire Cabinet of Ministers cannot evade responsibility for their failure in their Constitutional duty. Though they may not be legally accountable, their conduct is highly irresponsible, immoral and blameworthy.

However, the Cabinet Sub-Committee appointed by the present government to study the Report of the COI and identify recommendations for implementation has also expressed its view that the entire government then in power was accountable for the failure to prevent the Easter Attack.

(To be concluded tomorrow)

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