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Appreciation From Theologians And Others As Father Tissa Balasuriya Turns 80

Updated: September 02, 2004 05:00 PM GMT
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Theologians and others have expressed their appreciation for Sri Lankan Father Tissa Balasuriya as he turned 80.

A thanksgiving Mass on Aug. 29 at the Centre for Society and Religion, which the Oblate theologian founded, marked his 80th birthday the preceding day.

A book of felicitations entitled "Rainbows on a crying planet -- Essays in honor of Tissa Balasuriya" was launched on the occasion.

Many contributors to the book are fellow Asians involved in theology work. Contributors from Sri Lanka include human rights activist Sunila Abeysekera and Jesuit Father Aloysius Pieris, founder of Tulana, a research institute for interreligious dialogue.

Contributors from outside the country include Pakistani Father Emmanuel Asi, Church of South India Reverend K.C. Abraham, Indian Jesuit Father Samuel Rayan, Philippine Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan and retired Philippine Carmelite Bishop Julio Labayen, all theologians. They also include Belgian Father Francois Houtart, and Lieve Troch, professor of systematic theology in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Judge Christopher G. Weeramantry, retired vice president of the International Court of Justice, presented the felicitation volume. He described Father Balasuriya as an outstanding scholar who has contributed a new way of asking questions and has linked theological knowledge with practical problems.

The judge, who was chief guest at the event, also said the priest has made a stand for marginalized and oppressed people, and has treated issues of capitalism and labor in a philosophical and theological light.

Troch, who served as editor of the felicitation volume, said Father Balasuriya "belongs to Asia and all other continents," but many Churches and Church institutions have not benefited from his insights because they were not ready to welcome him, she said.

She presented the priest with a shawl of rainbow colors, made in Ecuador, which she said is a symbol of the struggles of indigenous peoples.

Father Balasuriya, now 73, incurred excommunication for statements about Mary, original sin, Christ´s redemptive role, revelation and papal authority in his book "Mary and Human Liberation," published in English in 1990. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a notification of the excommunication on Jan. 2, 1997, saying it had been incurred automatically by Father Balasuriya´s propagating ideas contrary to the Catholic faith.

The excommunication was formally lifted a year later, on Jan. 15, 1998, after Father Balasuriya signed a "Statement of Reconciliation."

At the Centre for Society and Religion on Aug. 29, Radhika Coomaraswamy, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and former U.N. Rapporteur on Discrimination against Women, described Father Balasuriya as a "feminist" who has worked for gender equality. The Hindu woman also said the priest was one of two Catholics who had influenced her life most.

Children of Karuna House, a home for disadvantaged children that Father Balasuriya set up using his ancestral home, sang a song of tribute. Some also spoke at the event.

Father Balasuriya was born in 1924 near Anuradhapura, north-central Sri Lanka. He did his priestly studies in Rome before being ordained an Oblate priest in 1949. He did postgraduate studies in agricultural economics at Oxford University and other studies at the University of Paris.

He has served as chaplain of the Catholic Students Federation of Sri Lanka and was instrumental in starting biblical and theological courses for young Religious brothers and sisters.

In 1976 he was one of the first to propose what would become the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, and he has advocated a link between African and Asian spiritualities.

The Sri Lankan Association of Theology he helped start in the latter half of the 1970s served as an ecumenical platform for debating diverse issues including inculturation, interreligious dialogue, the mission of the Churches and contextual and liberation theologies.

Known also for his social involvement, Father Balasuriya has been active in organizing Colombo slum dwellers and campaigning for a just solution to the ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese-led government and Tamil rebels, which claimed some 80,000 lives from 1980 until a cease-fire in 2002.

At the center he founded, he conducted many seminars and workshops on sociopolitical issues, inviting politicians of all camps for discussions.

His many books include "The Eucharist and Human Liberation," "Planetary Theology" and "Right Relationships."


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