Reconciliation needed in Sri Lanka, says Anglican bishop

Inter-religious dialogue 'is imperative in villages, cities and among the clergy and laity'
Reconciliation needed in Sri Lanka, says Anglican bishop

Police lay out the bodies of the dead after one of the Easter Sunday bombings at St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo. Inter-religious tension has risen ever since the attacks. (AFP photo)

Sri Lanka is in need of reconciliation following the nationwide tension that has built up since the Easter bombings, says a church leader and social activist.

Retired Anglican Bishop Duleep De Chickera said that in the discourse of reconciliation among religions “the first thing is to repent.”

An understanding of other religions is crucial in today’s context, he said from his residence at the Church of the Living Savior in Colombo.

“When you don’t educate people on other religions, then you are ready to pick up gossip, rumors and fake news,” he said.

Bishop De Chickera has always been a Christian leader who strived to promote inter-ethnic and religious understanding, equality and justice.

He says the different religions have not worked hard enough to build up trust between them and that even Sunday school teachings tended to “devalue” other religions. “That kind of idea in a child’s mind in the formative years is damaging,” he said.

On the contrary, he believes that schools should teach “comparative religion” and educate children about all religions; all communities should be present in schools without segregation.

Sri Lanka today has schools run solely on the basis of religion — Buddhist , Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu. “These are some of the long-term structural changes required,” he said.

In this context, inter-religious dialogue is imperative in villages and cities and among the clergy and laity, he pointed out.

Sri Lanka has faced tension among different religious groups ever since the April attacks and people have been avoiding Muslim-run shops. This situation is more prevalent in cities and towns than villages.

Radical suicide bombers affiliated with local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) blasted three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, killing 259 people, including 37 foreign nationals, and injuring at least 500.

Bishop Duleep De Chickera believes schools should educate children about all religions and should welcome all faiths. (Photo from YouTube)

Sympathy for politicians

Religious groups should focus on two areas of improvement, said Bishop De Chickera: to learn about each other and to openly discuss their tensions around a table.

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He also called for more transparency in government and pointed out that the government had been formed in the context of “competitive politics.” “If we learn to share the resources of the world, then we are at the doorway to reconciliation,” he said.

He did, however, stress that internal tensions and hostility toward political leaders was not limited to Sri Lanka, citing the violent street protests in Hong Kong and Iraq. “Many countries are in turmoil,” he said.

The bishop had some sympathy for under-fire politicians, saying that “being at the helm of government is a daunting thing.”

The need for an “integrated reconciliation” through respect and trust is needed today and this is where the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer is all the more relevant because it tells us to be content and trust.

He said the need for reconciliation in Sri Lanka is all the more urgent under the current circumstances, adding: “This is a reminder that reconciliation is not just the responsibility of the government but that people also need to work for it.”

Bishop De Chickera is the former Anglican bishop of Colombo. He is a member of the Congress of Religions, Sri Lanka Friday Forum and the World Council of Churches’ Commission of Churches on International Affairs. He was accorded an honor in 2008 when he preached a key sermon at the Lambeth Conference in the presence of 650 bishops from around the world.

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