THE BRITISH AND INDEPENDENCE PERIODS (1796-1948)
THE BRITISH AND INDEPENDENCE PERIODS
In 1796 the Dutch settlements in the island passed into the hands of the British. Although the British government had its own form of Christianity identified with it, the Church of England, as the Dutch had the Dutch Reformed Church and the Portuguese the Catholic Church, it showed great tolerance towards the Catholics from the early days of British rule in Lanka. The first governor, Frederick North (1798-1805) was given special instructions in this regard by the home government. The next governor, Thomas Maitland (1805-1811), passed in Council a Regulation on 27 May 1806, restoring full religious freedom to Catholics, which was to take effect on 4 June that year, the birthday of the king George III (1760-1820). Thus Lanka's Catholics regained their religious freedom even before freedom was restored to the Catholics of Britain, which was done only in 1829.
In 1815 the kingdom of Kandy was ceded to the British who thereafter became rulers of the whole country. Indian priests from the Oratory of Goa continued to serve the Church in the island. Since Portugal's power in the East. had waned and its Padroado obligations could no longer be carried out' as before, the Congregation of Propaganda Fide took in hand the care of the Church in the Indies and began to erect Vicariates Apostolic and appoint bishops to them. Thus were established the vicariates of Madras (1832). Bengal (1834), Pondicherry (1836) and Madura (1836). By his brief Multa praeclare of 1838 Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) brought to an end Portugal's jurisdiction in the territories which were no longer subject to it.
LANKA BECOMES A VICARIATE APOSTOLIC
The same Pope (Gregory XVI) by the brief Ex munere pastoralis ministerii of 3 December 1834 detached Sri Lanka from the diocese of Cochin after it had been part of it for 275 years (since 1558) and constituted it as a separate ecclesiastical territory, the Vicariate Apostolic of Sri Lanka. Thus territorially and administratively Sri Lanka became
independent of Cochin, and politically and ecclesiastically, identical. The Vicar General and Oratorian Superior of the time, Fr Francisco Xavier, was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Lanka, but since he died before the papal briefs of his nomination were issued, the next to succeed him as Vicar General and Superior, Fr Vicente do Rosayro, was nominated Vicar Apostolic and solemnly installed in St Lucia's Church, Kotahena on 14 January, 1838.
At the time when the Church in Sri Lanka had no pastors. Fr Vaz and the Indian priests of the Oratory he had founded came to Lanka's assistance which went on for a century and a half. When the way, was now open for European missionaries to come to Sri Lanka again after the restoration of religious freedom to Catholics by the British, the cessation of the Oratory, itself took place as if its providential role in serving Sri Lanka in its hour of need had ended. In 1833 religious orders in Portugal were suppressed. The royal decree was extended to the colonies in 1834 and implemented in Goa in 1835. Thus the Oratory of Goa too was suppressed. The Oratorians who were in Sri Lanka, however, continued their services as before. Lanka's link with the Indian missionaries which commenced with Fr Vaz's arrival in 1687 ended when the last Indian Oratorian in the island, Fr Mathes Caetano, died in 1874.
It was when Bishop Vicente do Rosayro was Vicar Apostolic that the first European missionary of the British period came to Sri Lanka, though not sent by, Propaganda. He was the French Lazarist, Alexandre-François Dumas, who had been a missionary in China. The next Vicar Apostolic of Sri Lanka, Caetano Antonio, was also an Indian Oratorian. During his episcopate (1843-1857), more European missionaries began to come into the island.
EUROPEAN MISSIONARIES COME AGAIN
The Congregation of Propaganda Fide looked for European priests, both religious and secular, who were willing to come to Sri Lanka as missionaries. Expecting that European Oratorians would be specially welcome into the company of the Indian Oratorians in Sri Lanka, the Congregation sought for Oratorians but was not very successful in getting them. However, the first European missionary Propaganda sent to the island was an Oratorian, the Italian priest Orazio Bettacchini, who arrived in 1842.
A French priest, André Reinaud who had been an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, came in 1844, though not directly sent by Propaganda. In 1845 came an Italian Sylvestrine (Sylvestro - Benedictine), Joseph Bravi, and two Spaniards who had become Cistercians in Italy, Freilano Oruna and Firenzo Garcia. The latter served in the Bolawatte region for some fifty years and was spiritual director to the stigmatist Sister Helena of Gonawila. Another who came in the same year was Francisco de Menezes, first Asian Redemptorist. In 1847 came, the secular priests John Vistarini and Julius Caesar Mola. All these came as individual recruits from religious institutes or the secular clergy.
Orazio Bettacchini, who arrived in 1842, was appointed three years later (1845) as coadjutor to Caetano Antonio and was the first to receive episcopal ordination in Sri Lanka itself, which was conferred on 8 February 1846 at St Lucia's Church, Kotahena. The previous two bishops, both Indians (Vicente do Rosayro and Caetano Antonio) had had their episcopal ordination in India. Bettacchini was placed in charge especially of the northern part of the island. The division of the island into two vicariates was being contemplated at the time in Rome.
In early 1847 Bettacchini went to Europe to look for more European missionaries. He met Bishop Eugene de Mazenod at Marseilles, founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and was assured of support by him. When Bettacchini returned in November that year, he brought with him four Oblates, with Fr Stephen Semeria as their superior. They began their activities in the northern part of the island which was being looked after by Bettacchini. It was the first time in the British period that a group of European missionaries from a single congregation had been offered for service in Sri Lanka with the assurance of others to follow. The Oblates, coming in bigger numbers later, would eventually be the leading missionaries and pastors in the island and the chief architects of the Lankan Church in the British period.
The founder of the Oblates, St Eugene de Mazenod, not only willingly sent members of his order for work in Sri Lanka but continued to give them guidance. During the 14 years from the first arrival of Oblates in Sri Lanka in 1847 up to his death in 1861 he sent 51 letters to Sri Lanka most of them to Father (later Bishop) Stephen Semeria. Bishop de Mazenod's concern for his sons and their work was a factor contributory to the progress of Oblate activity in the island.
TWO VICARIATES FOR LANKA
By a decree of 9 September 1847 Rome erected two vicariates apostolic in Sri Lanka, the northern vicariate of, Jaffna and the southern of Colombo, the former dependent on the latter, and with Bettacchini as its Pro-Vicar. Two years later, by the apostolic brief of 13 August 1849, the northern vicariate became autonomous with Bettacchini as its Vicar apostolic.
The Italian Sylvestrine, Joseph Bravi, was nominated coadjutor to Caetano Antonio in Colombo. The northern vicariate comprised the Northern, North Central, Eastern and North Western civil divisions or provinces, while the remaining provinces (Western, Central, Uva, Sabaragamuwa and Southern) together formed the Southern Vicariate.
Thus from 1849 there were two vicariates in Sri Lanka, Jaffna and Colombo, both having Oratorian bishops, Caetano Antonio, an Indian, in Colombo. and Orazio Bettacchini, an Italian, in Jaffna. In 1856 the Oblate Semeria was appointed coadjutor to Bettacchini in Jaffna. When in the following year (1857) the Oratorian vicars apostolic of both Colombo and Jaffna died, their coadjutors succeeded them, so that Colombo had a Sylvestrine bishop (Joseph Bravi) and Jaffna an Oblate (Stephen Semeria).
This position of Sylvestrines being in charge of the Colombo Vicariate continued for the next quarter century, three Italian Sylvestrines being Vicar Apostolic one after the other: Joseph Bravi (1857-1860), Hilarion Silani (1863-1879) and Clement Pagnani (1879-1882). The Oblates had charge of Jaffna for the next 115 years (till 1972).
BONJEAN CHAMPIONS DENOMINATIONAL EDUCATION
In the very year the Oblates came to Sri Lanka (1847), a French priest of the Paris Foreign Mission Society left for India. He worked as a missionary in Coimbatore for the next nine years. Then he came over to Sri Lanka (Jaffna) in 1856 where his countrymen of another religious congregation (the Oblates) were working, and became an Oblate himself. This was Christopher Ernest Bonjean. The contribution he made in the course of time to the Church in Sri Lanka, in both Jaffna and Colombo, especially in the field of education, is enormous. He stands out as the greatest Churchman in the history of the Church in the British period. He might in fact be called 'the Second Apostle of Sri Lanka,' the first being of course Fr Joseph Vaz.
The British government entrusted education in the colony to the Anglican clergy in 1798; to a School Commission in 1834 which was in practice a Protestant body which favoured Protestant education and proselytization; and in 1841 to a Central School Commission which too was predominantly Protestant. These bodies had the financial support of the state.
Bonjean had a masterly command of English and was a facile writer. He was a keen controversialist and a hard fighter. Just four years after his arrival in the island he took up his pen to defend the Church, which he continued to do all his life. In 1860 he published a pamphlet of 60 pages, printed in Madras and entitled A Few Words on Catholic Education in Ceylon. It was the first book ever to be published in English by a Catholic priest in Sri Lanka. In it he clearly lays down the Catholic position in regard to education. He contributed also a series of letters to the Examiner, an influential journal of the time. opposing the government-mooted system of 'common mixed schools' in which Christian pupils of various denominations were to be taught a common form of Christianity These letters were published in 1861in a book of 185 pages.
In 1865 the Legislative Council appointed a sub-committee to inquire into and report on education in the island. Bonjean, still only a priest, was one of those consulted by the committee. He submitted very comprehensive answers to the questions put by it. In his submissions he advocated a system of state-aided schools to be run by each religious denomination for its children. Then only, he pointed out, not only Catholics. but also the adherents of other religions in the island (Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims) would be fairly treated. Bonjean's submissions were later (1867) published in a book of 96 pages.
On the recommendations of the committee, in accordance with Bonjean's proposals, the government decided, in 1869, that any religious denomination could open schools for its children which would be given a grant by the government if they provided a sound secular education. The Denominational or Assisted Schools System, which would benefit all religions, thus came into being and would last nearly a century until the takeover of schools by the state in 1960. Bonjean came to be known as 'the Father of the Denominational School System'.
BONJEAN AS BISHOP IN JAFFNA AND IN COLOMBO
In 1868 the first Oblate Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna, Stephen Semeria, died and Christopher Bonjean was appointed to succeed him. He was followed by four other French Oblate bishops, Andrew Melizan (1883-1893), Henry Joulain (1893-1919), Jules Brault (1919-1923) and Alfred Guyomar (1924-1950), and then by a Sri Lankan Oblate, Emilianuspillai (1950-1972). After him came for the first time a bishop of the diocesan clergy, Bastiampillai-Deogupillai.
We have seen that in the vicariate of Colombo the first two bishops, who were Indian Oratorians, were followed successively by three Italian Sylvestrines. But the Sylvestrine order was not in a position to supply the vicariate of Colombo with the missionary personnel it needed. The Holy See therefore decided to entrust Colombo too to the Oblates and in 1883 transferred Bonjean from Jaffna to Colombo, after he had been Bishop of Jaffna for 15 years.
At the same time a new territorial unit, the Vicariate Apostolic of Kandy, comprising the Central and Uva Provinces, was created and Bishop Clement Pagnani transferred from Colombo to Kandy. Thus 36 years after the setting up of the first two vicariates, Colombo and Jaffna, a third was erected, but Colombo and Jaffna, both now looked after by the Oblates, remained the two major vicariates in the island, where most of the island's Catholics lived.
In 1886, three years after Bonjean's transfer to Colombo, came the decision of the Holy See to establish the hierarchy in India and Sri Lanka. At an episcopal assembly in Colombo on 6 January 1887, the Apostolic Delegate, Antonio Agliardi, promulgated Rome's decision. Colombo became an archdiocese, and Christopher Bonjean the first Archbishop of Colombo. Jaffna and Kandy became Colombo's suffragan dioceses.
Bonjean's interest in education lasted all his life. In Jaffna he was responsible for the growth and development of St Patrick's College, opened by a predecessor, Bishop Bettacchini. He saw also to the establishment of a large number of schools for vernacular education. In Colombo, he took steps towards the founding of a Catholic collegiate school, since there was none as yet, and established St. Joseph's College, though he did not live to see it opened.
When he died in 1892, Mr J. B. Cull, the then Director of Public Instruction, paid him a glowing tribute in the Administration Report of 1892, extolling him for his contribution to education in the island. "The Administration Report of the year would be conspicuously incomplete without reference to the supreme loss sustained by the cause of education in the death of His Grace the late Archbishop Bonjean. For many years the late prelate took a very prominent part in all matters relating to the advancement of education, and especially of the grant-in-aid system. With pre-eminent powers of organization and administration, marked force of character, the keenest insight into educational needs, the keenest interest in educational activity, a strenuous champion for all that tended to advance the educational progress of the Island, the area of the Island wheresoever Roman Catholic schools exist might be almost described as conterminous with the sphere of his energies" (pp. D 11 -D 12).
FURTHER CHURCH EXPANSION
After Bonjean, there were four other French Oblate Archbishops, Andrew Melizan (1893-1905), Antony Coudert (1905-1929) Peter Marque (1929-1937) and John Mary Masson (1938-1947). Then, coinciding with the country's regaining of its political independence (1948), came a Sri Lankan Archbishop (Oblate), Thomas Benjamin Cooray (1947-1976), who also became a Cardinal. He was succeeded by an Archbishop of the diocesan clergy, Nicholas Marcus Fernando.
In 1893 two more dioceses were established, those of Galle and Trincomalee-Batticaloa and entrusted to the Jesuits. Galle consisting of the Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces, and Trincomalee-Batticaloa of the Eastern Province, while the North Western Province, which had hitherto been part of Jaffna diocese, was given over to the Archdiocese of Colombo. This territorial division of the island into five dioceses (Colombo. Jaffna, Kandy, Galle, Trincomalee-Batticaloa) remained, unchanged for the next fifty-odd years until in 1939 the North Western Province was detached from the Archdiocese of Colombo and constituted as the diocese of Chilaw. Other divisions followed by and by, so that today at the time of writing, Sri Lanka is an ecclesiastical province comprising the metropolitan see of Colombo and the ten suffragan dioceses of Jaffna, Kandy, Galle, Trincomalee-Batticaloa, Chilaw Badulla, Mannar, Anuradhapura, Kurunegala and Ratnapura.
The period of about a century and a half, from the restoration of religious freedom to Catholics up to the early decades after independence, when foreign missionaries were again active in the island, is marked by growth in the Church. However it was a period that had its special problems along with factors that contributed to the Church's welfare and progress.
The takeover by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide of the administration and care of the missions that had been under the Padroado caused conflict in the Church in the 19th century. Although the Catholics generally accepted the new arrangement, there were some Indian Oratorians and their lay followers who found it difficult to submit to it, some going so far as to be the cause of schism,
We have seen that in 1838 Pope Gregory XVI by his brief Multa praeclare brought to an end Portugal's jurisdiction in territories that were no longer subject to it. We have seen, moreover, that from 1842 Propaganda began to send European missionaries to Sri Lanka. However, among the Goan Oratorians there were a few who found it difficult to break away from their traditional attachment to the Padroado (Portuguese patronage) with the result that there arose a faction who had a long-drawn conflict with the others who were loyal to the Holy See (the Propagandists).
In 1857 a concordat between the Holy See and Portugal tried to settle the problem by agreeing that churches or parishes which at the time were under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Goa would remain so. Thus there were some Lankan parishes that came under the authority of the Archbishop of Goa, who had his Vicar General in Colombo, a parallel jurisdiction of the Padroado through Goa, and Propaganda through its local vicars apostolic.
With a view to ending this situation, Pope Leo XIII by his brief Studio ac vigilantia of 26 August 1884 withdrew as from 1 December that year the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Goa over such enclaves. But there were agitations and strong protests among the Padroadists, both clergy and their lay associates, and appeals were sent to Rome against the decision. Eventually another concordat, that of 23 June 1886, juridically settled the problem when Portugal renounced its claims, so that Goa had no more jurisdiction in Sri Lanka, though there were still disgruntled parties that went their own way creating dissension.
Fr Vaz who, as we have seen, declined the mitre to prevent conflict between Rome and Portugal would have been saddened that a situation such as the Padroado-Propaganda conflict arose in Sri Lanka.
TRAINING OF NATIVE CLERGY
Although a missionary like St Francis Xavier saw the need to promote indigenous candidates to the priesthood for which purpose he took over for Jesuit administration the College of St Paul at Goa, other missionaries of the time did not generally see things that way. The missionaries who worked in Sri Lanka in the Portuguese period made, no attempt to raise a native clergy, hoping no doubt that the influx of European missionaries into the island would continue without a break. In the Dutch period too no consideration was given to this matter. It was however a period of persecution when the missionaries did not have the opportunity and facilities for an undertaking of that nature, though Lankan recruits could have been sent to Goa to join the Oratory and later return for work in Sri Lanka.
One of the notable features of the British period was that concrete steps were taken to establish seminaries and encourage native candidates to study for the priesthood. This was due both to the initiative of the missionaries themselves and the urging of the Holy See. In 1869 Propaganda sent an instruction to vicars apostolic calling upon them to recruit indigenous candidates for the priesthood. At the time there were only two Vicariates in Sri Lanka, Colombo and Jaffna. Christopher Bonjean, Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna, had already been thinking of setting up a seminary, which he did the same year (1869). In 1874 it was placed under the patronage of St Martin of Tours. Of the first batch of four students ordained in 1889, one was a Sinhalese, the Oblate John Pahamunay, a convert who had been in training to be a Buddhist monk and whose brother, who had become a monk as Pahamunay Sri Saranankara Sumangala, rose to the exalted position of chief monk of the Siamese sect in Sri Lanka. This first seminary established in Sri Lanka became in the years to come a source of supply of a large number of native priests, Oblates and secular clergy for service in their motherland.
After fifteen years in Jaffna as Vicar Apostolic, Bonjean was transferred to Colombo. There too he immediately took measures to provide for the training of native clergy. One of the first, things he did in the very year of his arrival (1883) was to open a major seminary in Colombo. St Bernard's, which, in the course of the next three quarters of a century, until its amalgamation m 1955 with the present National Major Seminary in Kandy, produced a large number of Lankan priests, both Oblate and secular priests.
A special seminary for the Indies, intended by Pope Leo XIII to be a high-grade seminary for select candidates, which came to be known as the 'Papal Seminary' was established in Sri Lanka (Kandy) in 1893, largely due to the choice of location by the then Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Ladislaus Zaleski. The seminary, officially called Pontificium Athenaeum Kandiense, became the first institute of university rank in Sri Lanka. It conferred degrees up to the doctorate. The great majority of its students came from India, but it gave opportunity to some Sri Lankan candidates too to be trained there for the priesthood.
Several of the dioceses of Sri Lanka opened minor seminaries too to prepare candidates for the major seminaries. It is the establishment of seminaries, both minor and major, and the raising of native clergy, first to work along with the European missionaries, and later to succeed them, that became the main factor in strengthening the local Church and indigenizing it, which is a credit to both the European missionaries of the British period who trained a native clergy and the sons of the soil who readily responded to the call to be shepherds to their own people. All the eleven dioceses today have Lankan bishops. The unique instance in mission history of indigenous clergy from neighbouring India exclusively serving the Church in Sri Lanka for over a century and a half, thanks to the zeal, enterprise and foresight of Fr Vaz, has been, and always should be, a source of inspiration to Lankan candidates in serving their country as priests.
CHURCH PROGRESS IN EDUCATION
Another factor that greatly contributed to the growth of the Church, especially qualitatively, in the British period, was the educational opportunity afforded by the system of education which, thanks to Bonjean's efforts, as already pointed out, came into operation from 1869. It was a very workable system of partnership between the state and religious bodies. Each religious denomination had the opportunity of opening schools for its children with financial assistance from the state.
The Catholic Church took advantage of this system and opened schools very extensively, in both urban and rural areas, so that by and by it had a network of Catholic schools throughout the country, which, though meant primarily for Catholic children, admitted also pupils of other faiths if they chose to come. Generally each church in a parish had either a mixed school attached to it, or one for boys and one for girls. There were larger and better equipped schools in towns for higher secondary education. The latter were schools of Grades 1 or 2, While the rural schools providing only an elementary or junior secondary education were of Grade 3. The schools were under the management of the Church, but supervised by the state. Each diocese had a priest with authority given by the Government Department of Education to function as General Manager, while each parish priest locally represented him. As part of the system, there were also state-aided Catholic training colleges for the training of Catholic teachers for the Catholic schools. Along with secular subjects, religion was well taught in the schools. There was close contact between the school and the local church and its pastor. Education in the school was carried out in a Catholic atmosphere.
One important factor which made Catholic education efficient and productive of good results was the availability of religious, both men and women, to run schools, and their commitment and dedication to the cause of education. By 1869, when the Denominational School System was launched, the Sylvestrines and Oblates of Mary Immaculate were already there. The Jesuits came in 1893. They opened schools in their dioceses for both English and vernacular education. There were besides non-clerical religious orders of men specially dedicated to education, the De la Salle Brothers and the Marist Brothers for English education, and the locally-founded Franciscan Brothers in Colombo and the Brothers of St Joseph in Jaffna for vernacular education.
Several congregations of nuns took an active part in founding and conducting schools for female education: the Sisters of the Holy Family, the first nuns to come to Sri Lanka (1862), Good Shepherd Sisters, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Apostolic Carmel Sisters, as well as nuns of indigenous religious congregations, namely the Sisters of St Francis Xavier (Bolawalana) and the Holy Angels Sisters (Galle).
Education, which was thus well provided to Catholics in the British period, became a source of great strength to the Church. It helped to improve the position of the Catholics qualitatively in respect of their religious knowledge and upbringing, their intellectual formation and their social and economic welfare. It gave Catholics the opportunity to secure employment and posts of responsibility in both government and private sectors. Catholics began to exert an influence in the country that was far above their numbers.
CHURCH AND CHARITIES
Charitable activity was part of the pastoral work of the missionaries of the Portuguese period who set up hospitals or served in them or distributed medicines among the people when they were stricken by disease. Charity was eminently part of the missionary apostolate of Fr Vaz as well. His charity in nursing the abandoned stricken when smallpox raged in Kandy was extraordinary. Apart from education, Christian charity in varied forms was also a characteristic of Church activity in the British period. Orphanages, homes for elders, nursing the sick etc were charitable activities undertaken especially by religious orders of nuns that came to the island in the British period.
During the episcopate of Christopher Bonjean in Colombo, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary came, in 1886, and at the request of the government undertook nursing at the General Hospital in Colombo. Their nursing service was later extended also to the hospital at Mannar and the leper hospitals at Hendala and Mantivu. In 1888 the Little Sisters of the Poor came and opened a home for elders at Maradana.
In 1887 the Oblates established at Maggona an orphanage for boys, a trade-school, and at the request of the government a home for juvenile delinquents. Similar and other charitable activities later proliferated and they conspicuously became means of witnessing to Christian charity.
REVIVAL OF BUDDHISM AND ITS AFTERMATH
Political independence given to the country in 1948 was doubtless an occasion for rejoicing for all the inhabitants of the country, but it brought also a problem to the religious and ethnic minorities. Sinhalese Buddhists consist of the great majority of the population and pressure by them for their rights has sometimes been prejudicial to the minorities. Here I am concerned with religion.
It is true that in the colonial period each Western power brought into the country the particular form of Christianity identified with it and sought to propagate it among the inhabitants, showing partiality to its adherents, with the result that Buddhism, the traditional religion of the vast majority of the people, which had all along been treated with favour by the Sinhalese Buddhist kings, now suffered a setback. It was in the Portuguese period that Buddhism suffered most.
Independence gave Buddhism the opportunity to strive to recover its lost position, prestige and privileges. While attempting to gain recognition and favour, the Buddhists also took steps to divest Christian bodies of anything that had been given them that seemed an advantage or favour to them. The new state constitution itself, while assuring freedom to all religions, gave special recognition to Buddhism.
Some of the decisions taken by the government after independence were directly or indirectly due to Buddhist pressure and intended to deprive the Catholic Church of what seemed privileges granted to it. One such decision of the government restricted the recruitment of foreign missionaries. But thanks to the training of native clergy by the missionaries themselves during the British period from the time the first seminary was opened in 1869, this restriction did not seriously hamper the work of the Church.
We saw that in 1886, at the request of the government, nuns undertook nursing at the General Hospital in Colombo. After seventy-eight years of nursing at the General Hospital, nuns were removed from it and from all other state hospitals m 1964 by the SLFP government of the time. This was a loss to the community, not to the nuns. The dedication of the nun in serving the sick is missing in the service of lay employees who work for a salary. Some of the European nuns went abroad and others undertook other types of charitable work.
STATE TAKEOVER OF SCHOOLS
The greatest blow to the Church after independence was the state takeover of schools. There were some Buddhists who did not view with favour the progress in education made by the Christian Churches, especially the Catholic Church, although there were also Buddhists who had their children educated in Christian schools and valued that education. The antipathy to Catholic schools is reflected m the Buddhist Commission Report of 1956, whatever other reasons are given on the surface for its demand for the state takeover of schools as from 1 January 1958. The Commission's demand was implemented in December 1960 by the SLFP government that came into power in July that year.
All the Catholic parish schools (Grade 3 schools), over 600 of them, where the vast majority of Catholic children were being educated, were taken over by the state, with their lands, buildings, furniture, etc. without any compensation. The same happened to Catholic Teacher-Training Colleges. Schools of Grades 1 and 2, that is senior secondary schools, which were a small number, were given the option to go private but without state aid and without the right to levy fees from the parents, which means, without a source of subsistence. Some 40-odd such schools were kept private by the Church, but by and by about half of them had to be handed over to the state, since the Church was unable to find the finances to keep them going. It is only the few left over that have been enabled to continue as Church schools, on account of the fact that the government of Mr. J. R. Jayewardene decided to give them from 1980 that is, 20 years after the takeover, a grant in the form of teachers' salaries.
Today many of the former parish schools do not have Catholic principals or an adequate Catholic staff or proper teaching of religion, though the majority of the pupils are Catholics. In the circumstances a Catholic atmosphere in the schools is non-existent. To provide religious instruction, which is missed m the schools, the Church has organized at parish level catechetical schools or Daham Pasalas, but not all Catholic children attend them. Even if some religious instruction is imparted in the parish catechetical schools, do Catholic pupils receive a satisfactory secular education m the schools taken over by the state?
DEVOTION TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN
As in other countries, a notable feature of missionary activity in Sri Lanka has been the inculcation of devotion to Our Lady in the native converts. This was there from the early days of the introduction of Catholicism into the country by European missionaries in the Portuguese period.
That the people had a great devotion to Our Lady is manifested by the fact that of over 160 churches built in the island in the Portuguese period, well over one-third were dedicated to Our Lady under various titles, including the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption which were later defined as articles of faith, in 1854 and 1950 respectively.
As we have already seen, the three main shrines in the country in the Portuguese period were all Marian shrines: the shrine of Our Lady of Mondanale and the shrine of Our Lady of Deliverance at Narahenpita, both in the kingdom of Kotte, and the shrine of Our Lady of Miracles in Jaffna. The Augustinian church at Attanagalla was dedicated to Our Lady of the Sinhalese.
In the Dutch period, the Indian missionaries who served in the country, led by Fr Vaz, who had a great personal devotion to Our Lady, continued to foster Marian cult in the island. It was in the early Part of this period that a church in the forest-covered Vanni region, the pastor of which was the Indian missionary Pedro Ferrão, began to draw devotees and eventually became a shrine, the church at Silena-Madhu. In the British period it went on to attract more and more pilgrims and in the course of time became the greatest Marian shrine in Sri Lanka, though in recent years pilgrimages to it have been held up owing to the ethnic conflict in the country.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who were the chief missionaries of the British period, being themselves specially dedicated to Our lady, took a great interest in fostering Marian devotion in the country. It was an Oblate Bishop of Jaffna, Christopher Bonjean, who inaugurated in 1870 the July 2 annual festival at Madhu which grew in popularity over the years and became the one festival in Sri Lanka which brought the biggest number of Catholic worshippers to one spot from all parts of the island.
The apparition of Our Lady in 1858 at Lourdes, in south-west France, brought a new element into Marian devotion in the country. Replicas of the grotto of Lourdes were built in various parts of the island and devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes grew, fostered mainly by the Oblate missionaries, the great majority of whom were French.
When the Second World War commenced and Japanese aggression brought them as far as Singapore, and Colombo and Trincomalee too were bombed, the then Archbishop of Colombo, John Mary Masson, went to the grotto at Tewatte and made a vow to Our Lady that if Sri Lanka was spared foreign invasion, a votive church would be built there as an act of thanksgiving.
Our Lady heard the prayer of Lanka's chief pastor. On 5 February 1947, the Bishops of Sri Lanka, led by the Archbishop Metropolitan, assembled at Tewatte, and officially proclaimed, with Rome's approval, that Our Lady would be the Partoness of the country under the title of Our Lady of Lanka.
Archbishop Thomas Cooray, who succeeded Archbishop Masson, built the votive church at Tewatte, which has been raised to the status of a Basilica.
23 August 1999