ucanews.com reporter, ColomboUpdated: December 02, 2012 04:01 PM GMT
For two decades, the pages of the Sinhalese language Kithusara bimonthly newspaper have advocated an independent and radical Christian perspective during some of the country’s darkest times.
It has endured through years of civil strife, a shattered civil society and heated opposition from the country’s Church hierarchy, some of whom dismiss the paper as “anti-Catholic.”
Kithusara, or Essence of Christianity, marks its 20th anniversary this year, and editor Mahinda Namal says that despite challenges and criticism, it remains committed to the principles upon which it was founded.
Namal says the paper has provided a staunch defense of human rights, environmental responsibility and care for the disenfranchised.
“Obviously, it is an uphill task, as the newspaper seeks to correct all wrongs in the society, not just politically but socially,” he said.
He added that the newspaper also champions the liberation found in Christianity and awareness of citizens’ rights and duties for a just society – something he says has been missing from mainstream Church media.
“We saw that the room in the official Church publications was limited in creating this awareness among people. We understood that there was a need for an alternative publication,” said Namal, who is also a teacher at a Catholic school.
“Some priests have spread the idea that the newspaper is anti-Church and have asked laymen not to buy it.”
However, the editors and writers – all lay Christians – have pressed on. They draw no salaries and pool their financial resources to pay for production costs.
“We print about 1,000 copies of the newspaper, priced at 25 rupees, and its readership is largely Christians and people from other religious groups.”
Writer and columnist Jude Preman Fernando says the editorial team aims to be the voice for those who have been kept silent in society.
He says the paper has fearlessly advocated for the Tamil community even amid the civil war, a time when religious leaders in the country took refuge in silence.
“We have stood against the issues of destruction of the environment and abductions, and have advocated for the support of war widows, displaced people, political prisoners, media freedom, a permanent political solution and true reconciliation,” he said.
“Today we have formed an ecumenical group. We have Anglicans, Methodists and members of other Churches with us.”
Kithusara has often found itself on the wrong side of public and political opinion for its harsh criticism of Church and government leaders.
“The newspaper has spoken against priests and bishops but we have to be very careful when we criticize them because Christians are minorities in this country,” said Prabath Fernando, a writer for several Catholic weeklies.
“We have to respect them all.”
Reverend W P Ebenezer Joseph, general secretary of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, says the newspaper has served to remind the Christian community of their wider responsibility to “respond to the groaning of the people” who suffer from visible and invisible manifestations of structural violence.
“It is an area of Christian witness which is very often overlooked by the institutionalized Churches and organizations” he said.
“Kithusara has constantly reminded the churches and the people of their prophetic and diaconal responsibilities.”
Despite criticism by some clerics, the newspaper does have its supporters within the Church.
Father Ernest Poruthota, an 81-year-old priest in the Archdiocese of Colombo, says Kithusara provides a necessary tool for social and religious dialogue.
“There are two ways to respond to criticism. Either you get angry and start attacking those who criticize you, or you keep silent but identify your mistakes and correct them, he said.
“The Catholic Church and its priests have shown both those responses to Kithusara’s criticism of them."
Fr Poruthota says publications such as Kithusara should exist in every diocese in Sri Lanka.
“It is a unique publication that calls the Christian community to be mindful of its wider community responsibility.”