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Sri Lanka’s ‘simple’ bishop passes away

Bishop Peiris is credited for accessibility, pro-poor approach and overhauling Catholic clergy formation in Sri Lanka
Bishop Vincent Marius Joseph Peiris (1941-2024) was known for his reforms in clergy formation, lay empowerment and expertise on social issues.

Bishop Vincent Marius Joseph Peiris (1941-2024) was known for his reforms in clergy formation, lay empowerment and expertise on social issues. (File Photo: UCA News)

Published: May 14, 2024 11:52 AM GMT
Updated: May 14, 2024 11:59 AM GMT

Bishop Vincent Marius Joseph Peiris, the auxiliary bishop of Colombo Archdiocese, who was known for his simplicity and pivotal roles in priestly formation and empowerment of lay people, has passed away.

Peiris died at the Evening Star retirement facility in Colombo on May 13 at the age of 83, Colombo Archdiocese said in a notice.

Catholics paid tributes to him for his simple, down-to-earth personality and his contributions to various Church ministries for decades.

Peiris was a simple parish priest who listened to everybody and supported marginalized individuals and lay leaders, said Surini Sithara, a Catholic teacher from St. Francis Xavier Church in Negombo.

“He consistently consulted and collaborated with lay leaders to make collective decisions, which was quite unusual, and endeared him greatly to the people. Despite being much loved, he led a very simple life, devoid of vehicles and luxury during his tenure in my parish,” she told UCA News.

“He was always available, even at odd hours, and eliminated the concept of office hours by removing the office hour board. He provided immense support to his assistant parish priests. He sometimes walked on the streets, engaging with people and discussing their challenges," she added.

Peiris was born on Oct. 11, 1941, and ordained as a priest in 1972.

A prolific scholar on social issues, Peiris studied at the London School of Economics and obtained an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Political Sociology.

From 1972-1989, he served at the National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka in Kandy and was appointed rector in 1998.

He is credited for overhauling priestly formation through consultation with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka.  

During his time in the seminary, he opened a new Philosophy center and started publishing a bi-annual theological periodical, “Living Faith” for clergy and religious in the country.

Pope John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop of Colombo in 2001. He retired in 2018.

He served as the secretary general of the national bishops’ conference and held important roles in various episcopal commissions including the Catholic National Commission for Seminaries, Clergy, Religious, and Secular Institutes and Social Communication Commission.  

Bishop Peiris faced criticism from some clergy for his commitment to reforming the priestly formation system but remained steadfast in his stand, said Niroshan Fernando, a member of Kithdana Pubuduwa, the country’s biggest Catholic renewal movement.

“Bishop Peiris's approach to pastoral care extended beyond the confines of the church, as he frequently traversed the streets even in Colombo to engage with people from all walks of life. However, his unconventional methods drew criticism from some quarters, who questioned the propriety of his street-level interactions,” said Fernando.

Catholic nun Sister D. S. Fernando, who serves the marginalized community, said that the bishop encouraged and supported the mission for the marginalized communities.

“The core of Bishop Peiris's vision was the synchronization of priestly spirituality with the socioeconomic and cultural fabric of Sri Lanka. He dedicated himself tirelessly to ensuring that the training of priests mirrored the distinct context of the country, adjusting spiritual rituals to harmonize with the daily lives of the people they ministered to," Fernando told UCA News.

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