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The struggle for justice goes on

More than a prayer movement, we have made our presence felt on behalf of Catholics nationwide

Father Siri Oscar Abayaratne Father Siri Oscar Abayaratne
  • Father Siri Oscar Abayaratne
  • Sri Lanka
  • May 6, 2011
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As Kithudana Pubuduwa (the movement for renewal of the Christian people) in Sri Lanka is completing forty years, I’m happy to note that over the years we have helped many Catholics develop a strong commitment to the cause of social justice and the change of sinful structures.

Basically we are a prayer movement but we have been in the forefront of the people's struggle for justice and protection of the environment in Sri Lanka.

For instance we led people to protests against the construction of a hotel on the bed of a tank in Kandalama (in Central Province) and a Voice of America radio station in Iranawila (in North-Western Province) which posed threats to the environment and the livelihood of poor fishing people. We also spoke out strongly against privatisation of water resources and a phosphate deposit.

Those are just a few cases where we made our presence strongly felt on behalf of the Catholics in this country.

In addition, to successive governments we pointed out the instances of undemocratic governance, bribery and corruption.

Our movement also caters to the spiritual needs of Sri Lankan expatriates living abroad, especially domestics and other workers in the Middle East. Needless to say, those people face a lot of hardships in those countries and they need guidance and encouragement to continue their work, sometimes in trying circumstances. Today we have communities in countries like Lebanon, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Australia, Italy and the UK.

Currently 1.3 million Sri Lankan migrants work overseas, mainly in the Middle East, and face hazards ranging from non-payment of wages or work without rest to food deprivation and forced confinement  - not to mention physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

In all those instances we have worked together with people of other faiths, especially Buddhists, who are the majority in the country. We count a number of Buddhist priests as our friends.

We have taught people to adopt a life of simplicity in line with the traditional and cultural values of our country. This is very important as today, society is growing increasingly consumerist and starkly individualist.

Pubuduwa doesn’t belong to any political party. But once we chose to support a particular party during an election as we thought it promoted core values of religions found in this country, which we think are fundamental to create a just society.

Our movement began in 1971 in Sri Lanka and has served as the foundation for a number of recent renewal movements in the Church.

Of course we were saddened when some of our members broke away and formed separate renewal movements. But we don’t hold any grudges against them as the Lord, like us, is using them too to spread his message to people.

Pubuduwa is a Lay Apostolate, and an Apostolate of Renewal in the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church. It is a result of the renewal expected by Vatican Council II.

We have been instrumental in forming strong lay leaders for the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.

Through the guidance of Pubuduwa hundreds and thousands of people have given up a life of sin or vicious habits.

I can say that it was we who took the bible to ordinary people in this country. People started reading the Word of God, praying and even preaching it.

We made the bible and the Seven Sacraments come alive in people’s lives. The movement contributed to the liturgy of Holy Mass, through new and meaningful hymns, for example.

People think we as a movement have also given an apt answer to the threats posed by fundamentalist groups. By helping people understand the Bible and teaching them to practise religion with a renewed spirit, I think we kept them in the Church at a time when evangelical groups were doing all they could to lead Catholics to their churches.

Currently there are more than 4,000 evangelical churches in Sri Lanka.

Our beginning in this country though was not so easy.

At the beginning, people and priests were sceptical about us. They thought Pubuduwa, with its new way of loud and spontaneous praying and open discussions on the bible, was trying to divide the Church. They also didn’t like the idea of boys and girls gathering together.

We were not allowed to hold our prayer services inside some churches. Some of us were chased out and threatened. In those places we met inside houses, under coconut trees or on the beach.

I remember once how some people in the archdiocese along with some priests went to meet the former Cardinal with a petition seeking to stop the activities of the movement.

Today more than 20,000 people participate in our weekly prayer meetings in various parts of the country, including the war ravaged areas in the north and the east, and around another 20,000 participate not on a regular basis. Between ten and fifteen thousand people take part in our annual Pentecostal Rally in June, where we adopt a central theme to base our lives on during the ensuing year.

We publish a booklet called ‘Walk in the Spirit’ every month and help people continue their journey of life through prayer. We encourage them to be true Christians in society who bear witness to values like love, forgiveness and sharing.

Father Siri Oscar Abayaratne, 78, spiritual director and founder of Kithudana Pubuduwa (church renewal movement)was speaking to ucanews.com as the lay movement was preparing to celebrate the 40th year of its existence in Sri Lanka.

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