Lay trainees ease mixed marriage blues
Bishop, priests and lay people are in the laity commission meeting
Falling numbers of Catholics and a consequent rise in mixed marriages have prompted one diocese in mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka to train lay leaders to assist priests in their church duties.
Kandy diocese, known for tea and rubber plantations, remains an important religious area for Buddhists as well Hindus and there is also a substantial Muslim population. Consequently there are extensive intermarriages.
According to church statistics, there were 209 mixed and 340 Catholic marriages – with two divorces – in the diocese in 2010, compared to 150 mixed marriages in 2009.
Partly in response to what is perceived as a rising trend, Kandy’s diocesan laity commission recently held a meeting to organise a leadership training course to prepare new lay leaders on leadership, bible studies, animator trainings, pre cana classes, adult baptism, and mixed marriage issues.
The meeting was attended by the bishop of Kandy and four other priests including Father Sudath Rohana, diocesan director of the commission.
Some 17 representatives from the diocese were present at the meeting, some of them married to Hindus or Buddhists.
“The Church has around 90 priests for 80,000 people, so a priest alone cannot do the whole church work,” said Bishop Vianney Fernando, bishop of Kandy. “It is so important that lay people should take part in church activities and it is fully needed today. Catholics have to move with great responsibility in their hands today as we live in a mixed society.”
“Fewer Catholics are in the diocese, no question. It is a major reason behind the growing number of mixed marriages," said Ajith Fernando, 35, in Kandy.
But the marriage rate is not the only thing changing. So are attitudes about inter-religious partnerships.
"Now we see that love plays a more important role in mixed marriages,” Fernando said.
“There are always challenges for couples in mixed marriages, and there are cultural differences that can lead to misunderstandings and divorce. It is more difficult to adjust to each other when you are from a different religion.”
Male and female representatives have been chosen by the lay commission of the diocese to help priests according to their Hindu or Buddhist traditions.
Jasintha Kularathne, 58, married to a Buddhist, told the meeting: “Mixed marriage takes place too often. My children’s father helps me lot in church work and we share our life experiences with everybody.”