Updated: May 31, 2021 06:07 AM GMT
Ven. Baddegama Samitha Thera helped to clean St. Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya after it was damaged in the Easter Sunday terror attacks in 2019. (Photo: Twitter)
Prominent rights activist, interfaith leader and former MP Ven. Baddegama Samitha Thera has died in Sri Lanka from the coronavirus.
Ven. Samitha Thera, 68, was the first Buddhist monk to be elected to parliament in the country's history.
The monk had been treated for Covid-19 and returned to his temple in Baddegama. However, he developed some post-Covid complications and passed away on May 30 while receiving treatment at a private hospital.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said the monk made strenuous efforts to cultivate love between Buddhist and Christian brothers and sisters.
"I remember that Ven. Samitha Thera brought 50 Buddhist monks and served Catholics at the church in Katuwapitiya. The incident brought tears to our eyes," the prelate said.
"The service rendered by the monk to the people was a great lesson in my life. I have a great respect and love for him."
He was a monk with a good heart. It is a great loss to the whole country
Ven. Samitha Thera went to St. Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya after it was damaged during the 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist attacks and cleaned the entire church and its premises including the Sunday school building.
More than 100 people were killed in a suicide bombing at the church on April 21, 2019.
"He was a monk who served not only in the temple but everyone in the society. He was a monk with a good heart. It is a great loss to the whole country. May he attain Nirvana," said Cardinal Ranjith.
"Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 situation, we don't have the opportunity to attend his funeral service."
The monk was always with the workers as they demonstrated on the streets to win their rights. He was respected by the people of all faiths and communities for his work for religious and communal harmony.
Nuwan Nisanka Fernando from Katuwapitiya said Catholics still have in their hearts the service that the monk rendered when he visited St. Sebastian’s Church a few days after the terrorist attack.
"We have never seen so many monks come and work in a church. The monks swept and cleaned the whole church. The pews and floor were covered in blood," said Fernando.
"I have immense respect for Ven. Samitha Thera's untiring efforts and dedication to make the world a better place."
Ven. Samitha Thera was elected deputy chairman of the local government in 1996 and 2006. He was elected a member of parliament in 2001, becoming the first monk to serve in Sri Lanka’s parliament.
The Buddhist cleric did great service as a prominent social worker. He was actively involved in social work to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, setting up hand-washing facilities in Baddegama.
In addition to religious activities, the monk made his mission for the equality of mankind, human rights and global justice
Former Muslim minister Imthiyas Bakeer Marker said the monk was aware of international politics and actively advocated for global justice.
"Until his death, he served as chairman of the Foundation for Sri Lanka-Palestine Cooperation," said Marker. "In addition to religious activities, the monk made his mission for the equality of mankind, human rights and global justice."
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said the monk's sudden demise is a great loss to the country.
"In addition to his religious activities, he was involved in progressive politics in the country and played a vital role for the people," said Rajapaksa.
Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said the monk had always stood for national unity and had made a huge contribution to building peace in the country.
Ven. Samitha Thera was born in Baddegama and obtained his formal education at Sri Rathanasara Vidyalaya, Baddegama. He entered Kelaniya University in 1976 and became involved in student politics. He received a scholarship to Lancaster University in England and earned a degree in comparative religions and third world development.