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Sri Lanka

Education still main focus for Sri Lankan archbishop

Oswald Gomis honored by president for his outstanding religious and social service in 50 years as a bishop

ucanews.com reporter, Kelaniya

ucanews.com reporter, Kelaniya

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Education still main focus for Sri Lankan archbishop

Archbishop Oswald Gomis addresses the gathering at his felicitation ceremony in Colombo on July 22 to mark his 50 years as a bishop. (ucanews.com photo)

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The now retired Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo faced huge challenges during the takeover of Sri Lanka's Catholic-run schools by the state in the 1960s.

The government policy was "certainly not a good thing" and was intended to hit Catholics, said the 85-year-old archbishop, who was honored by President Maithripala Sirisena for his outstanding religious and social service at a celebration in Colombo on July 22.

Celebrating 50 years of his episcopate, Archbishop Gomis believes the government should not have taken over church-run schools at that time.

"The government thought they [the schools] were avenues for conversion. But because of that, today all other religions have got whacked," he said. "I have always believed the Catholic Church has a very important mission in Sri Lanka, and that is education."

Catholic schools were meant to instill Catholic values in their communities and to encourage their practice through teachings of the religion daily.

Archbishop Gomis founded 15 affiliated schools as branches of established schools during his tenure as archbishop.

He has served as a member of the University Legislation Committee of the University of Colombo. He is a consultant for the Sinhala dictionary committee and remains chancellor of the University of Colombo.

He has written more than 30 books and founded the Sisters of Mary Immaculate congregation.

This educator has also been editor of the oldest existing Sinhala Catholic weekly, Gnanartha Pradeepaya (Lamp of Wisdom).

His entry into journalism came when he was a schoolboy who together with a few friends began a magazine titled The Writer and foolishly thought that advertisements had to be bought and were not paid for.

After joining a seminary in 1950, he contributed to the Aloysian Herald with Father Anslem De Croos. He was ordained a priest on Feb. 3, 1958, and his episcopal ordination was in 1968.

After becoming editor of Gnanartha Pradeepaya in 1961, he faced some tough times with trade union action within the press. Then after the introduction of the Schools Takeover Act, the press "had a hell of a loss because we were printing the books for schools."

To add to his woes, the government cut the supply of newsprint (paper used for printing). But he was helped by the then bishop of Chilaw, who had a press and sent his quota of newsprint, and M.D Gunasena of the Dawasa newspapers helped supply more.

Archbishop Gomis has documented the historical records of the Catholic Church and its people's contribution to Sri Lanka.

He was chairman of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference committee for social communications for 11 years and was on the board of directors of Radio Veritas.

Archbishop Gomis explained that during his time the Catholic Church went through several transformations, including orientation in line with Sinhala culture. This was necessary because French, Italian, Belgian and Irish missionaries had previously run the church in Sri Lanka.

Art, architecture, traditional festivities like Sinhala New Year and local Christmas cards were introduced. "We also knew that there was good in our culture to incorporate into Christian life," he recalled.

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