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Controversial theologian remembered in Sri Lanka

A Buddhist monk, priests and academics gathered to remember the activist priest and acclaim a lifetime of service
Controversial theologian remembered in Sri Lanka

Venerable Buddiyagama Chandraratane Thero lights an oil lamp under a portrait of Father Tissa Balasuriya at his 4th death anniversary at the Center for Society and Religion on Jan. 17 in Colombo. (Photo by Niranjani Roland)

Published: January 19, 2017 07:37 AM GMT
Updated: January 19, 2017 09:06 AM GMT

Buddhist monks, academics and priests gathered to commemorate Oblate Father Tissa Balasuriya, an outspoken Catholic priest and activist who was excommunicated during the reign of Pope John Paul II.

Buddhist monk, Venerable Buddiyagama Chandraratane Thero, who worked with Father Balasuriya, said the priest was a great thinker and activist.

"Father Balasuriya organized talks and dialogues on social, economic and political issues every month and he established the Centre for Society and Religion in Colombo," said Venerable Chandraratane, addressing academics, priests, activists and politicians at the commemoration of Father Balasuriya's fourth death anniversary on Jan. 17 in Colombo.

Father Balasuriya founded the center in 1971. It was a venue for inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogue and served vulnerable women, urban poor, workers, whistle blowers, human rights workers and orphans.

"The priest engaged continuously with these issue. He had a very simple life; even though he came from a rich family he walked on foot and traveled by public transport to listen the poor and help the really needy," said Venerable Chandraratane.

"He started a public magazine to discuss social, economic and political issues. He was a trained economist and I loved him very much for his mission," the monk said.

Venerable Buddiyagama Chandraratane Thero delivers a speech about his experience working with the late Father Tissa Balasuriya. (Photo by Niranjani Roland)

Father Balasuriya authored 35 books on human rights, theology and religion. He ran into problems with the Vatican after publishing his book, Mary and Human Liberation in 1990.

The Vatican issued a notification of excommunication in 1997, saying that the priest was propagating ideas contrary to the Catholic faith. After intense international publicity and negotiations, they reversed the excommunication in 1998.

Father Ashok Stephen, current director of the Center for Society and Religion said they would continue the Father Balasuriya's mission. "This is a home for people who work for the betterment of society," he said.

Father Balasuriya was born in 1924 and ordained in 1949. He did his post-graduate studies in agricultural economics at Oxford University and studied further in Paris.

He was one of the original founders of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians in 1975. He also received the Sarvodaya Trust Fund Award for his service in the cause of reconciliation, national harmony, peace and justice in Sri Lanka.

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