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Welcoming the Seventh Bishop of Kandy: Bishop Valence Mendis

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On 9th October 2021, the Vatican announced the appointment of Rt. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis (Bishop of Chilaw) as the Bishop of Kandy by His Holiness Pope Francis, succeeding Bishop Vianney Fernando on his retirement after a very fruitful and record-breaking long episcopate spanning more than 38 years. His installation as the 7th Bishop of Kandy will take place on 17th January 2022 at St. Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy at a ceremony to be presided over by Bishop Vianney after which he will simultaneously shepherd the Diocese of Chilaw as its Apostolic Administrator.

Bishop Valence is no stranger to Kandy. Soon after his ordination as a priest for the Diocese of Chilaw on 20th July 1985, he was given as a “fidei donum priest” (i.e temporarily ‘loaned’) to the Diocese of Kandy by the late Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando, for a period of two years. This was in response to a request made by Bishop Vianney for a young priest to tide over a crisis arising out of a dearth of priests in the Diocese of Kandy. Thus, on 15th August 1985, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, a young, handsome, pleasant priest celebrated the 5.30 p.m. Holy Mass at St. Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy. The Holy Mass was edifying and the sermon was inspiring and the people of Kandy took an instant liking to this young priest whom the then Parish Priest, the late Rev. Fr Gregory Fernando introduced as “Fr. Valence Mendis who has been loaned to the Diocese of Kandy by the Bishop of Chilaw for a short period”.

Impressed both by his abilities as well as his priestly commitment, Bishop Vianney recommended to Bishop Frank Marcus in early 1987 that Fr. Valence should pursue higher studies. This was readily agreed upon by Bishop Frank Marcus who extended his period in the Diocese of Kandy by two more years so that he could read for a Master’s Degree at the University of Peradeniya.

He was transferred as the Parish Priest of Padiwatte in 1987, where he effectively used his talents and managed his time to nurture the parish and build up a vibrant community while pursuing his university career.

During this time, he also made use of his talents as a musician, lyricist and vocalist. His melodious rendition of his own composition wdor foú iñf|a (Aadara Devi Saminde) in the first ever audio cassette produced by the Diocese of Kandy in 1987 to commemorate the tercentenary of the arrival of St. Joseph Vaz in Sri Lanka in 1687 and the centenary of the Diocese, is still fresh in the minds of the people. (In recognition of his contribution to produce the cassette, Bishop Vianney decided to name it wdor foú iñf|a.

He reached out to all people without any form of favouritism or discrimination. To him all were children of God. He did not condemn the rich, but inspired them to care for the needy and the down-trodden. By his actions and persuasion, and through his inspiring and meaningful sermons he showed that one can work for the upliftment of the poor as well as act against injustice and abuse without being portrayed as a revolutionary. When it came to serving the poor or anyone in need, he always advised the people to reach out to them – (“walk the extra mile for the sake of others” was his favourite saying), and his advice was well heeded by the people because he practiced what he preached. Special mention must be made about how he guided and safeguarded the youth of the Padiwatte Parish (both Catholic and Buddhist) during the turbulent period of youth unrest and violence in 1988/1989.

He presented his thesis on “Ritualism in Buddhism” and obtained a Master of Arts degree in Comparative Religion from the University of Peradeniya in 1989.

His brief stay of 2 ½ years as Parish Priest of Padiwatte culminated with the very meaningful celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the Fatima Shrine (the only Marian Shrine of the Diocese of Kandy) in October 1989. At the conclusion of the celebrations, Bishop Vianney publicly thanked him for his services to the Diocese and announced that he would henceforth revert to the Diocese of Chilaw.

In fact, when Bishop Vianney had thanked Bishop Franck Marcus for giving him a very good priest, he had said: “when I give, I give of my best”. On his return to the Diocese of Chilaw, Bishop Frank Marcus decided that his talents should be made use of to train, guide and mould the future priests of Sri Lanka. Thus began his career at the National Seminary, Ampitiya, in October 1989.

From the National Seminary he proceeded to Rome in September 1992 to read for a Doctorate in Philosophy at the Urban University. I realized the importance of his doctoral thesis (Philosophy of Creation in St. Thomas Aquinas: MAKING GOD INTELLIGIBLE TO NON-THEISTS”), only when I heard the then Abbot General of the Sylvestro-Benedictine Congregation telling him in June 1993: “Young man, you have chosen a daring subject for your thesis. I wish you good luck!”. On successfully defending his doctoral thesis within a short period of two years, he returned to the National Seminary in October 1994 and was appointed the Dean of Philosophy. When a decision was taken by the Bishops’ Conference to house the Philosophy students at a separate location, he was entrusted with the task of supervising the designing and construction of the new complex. The magnificent complex housing the Philosophate is ample proof of his versatility.

Having served the National Seminary as its first Director of the Philosphate (from October 2000) and thereafter as the Rector (from 4th February 2001), he was ordained the Co-adjutor Bishop of Chilaw on 2nd April 2005. He succeeded Bishop Frank Marcus as the Bishop of Chilaw on his retirement on 28th October 2006.

His deep spirituality which is focused on Christ and his devotion to Mother Mary and the Saints are worthy of emulation. His, is a spirituality which is a combination of prayer and action – a spirituality based on Jesus’ message of love and concern not only for the poor, the needy and the oppressed, but for all people.

Unity and charity are two words that are very dear to him – two virtues he practices very much. He is a keen promoter of unity in families, in communities, in parishes and also among peoples of different cultures, ethnicity and creed. Charity, he practices to the hilt. Therefore, it was no wonder that he chose as his motto “UNIRE OMNES IN CARITATE” (i.e., To Unite All In Charity). Indeed, his motto is a true reflection of what he has been and his vision for the future.

Up to now, Bishop Valence has shepherded the Diocese of Chilaw for 15 years. For the sake of brevity, his numerous works for the spiritual nourishment and social upliftment of his flock are not enumerated here. It suffices to mention that his commitment to justice, peace and other social issues has beautifully blended with the ultimate goal of proclaiming Jesus Christ and his message of love and peace.

He is with a smile even in times of crisis. He personifies the servant who doubled his talents for his master (as mentioned in Jesus’ parable – Mathew 25:14-30) because he continues to make full use of his gifts for the sake of Christ, His Church and His people. He put the needs of the Church above everything else when he acceded to the request of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Shepherding two Dioceses simultaneously is no easy task. Yet his zeal and commitment combined with his total trust and faith in God through the intercession of Mother Mary and the Saints will surely help him to be a true shepherd – a shepherd unto God’s heart (cf. Jeremiah 3:15).

The Diocese of Kandy is fortunate to have in Bishop Valence a worthy successor to Bishop Vianney as its seventh Bishop, and he has the unique distinction of succeeding two erudite and much respected Bishops of Sri Lanka in contemporary times and also simultaneously shepherding two important Dioceses, Chilaw and Kandy.

Born and bred in Moratuwa; ordained a Priest for the Diocese of Chilaw; formative years as a newly ordained priest in the Diocese of Kandy; assists the Church in Sri Lanka in guiding and moulding its future priests; goes back to the Diocese of Chilaw as its shepherd; and now comes back to the Diocese of Kandy as its shepherd while not abandoning the Diocese of Chilaw. The “fidei donum priest” of 1985 becomes the Bishop of the Diocese in 2022! All these form God’s mysterious providential plan for all of us – HIS Chosen Children through our Baptism. No wonder God tells us: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways … My thoughts are above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9), and invites us to place our faith and trust in HIM for: “With God nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37).

As Bishop Valence takes over the Diocese of Kandy, it is our duty to seek the intercession of Mother Mary and the Saints and pray that Almighty God will grant him long life, good health, prudence, and wisdom so that he will be a good shepherd to the flock (in both Dioceses of Chilaw and Kandy) entrusted to his care by the LORD.

Ad Multos Anos

in the Vineyard of the Lord and welcome to Kandy, dear Bishop Devasritha Valence Mendis!

Victor Silva (FCA, FCMA, MCIM – Retired)



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Is it impossible to have hope?

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So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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