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Archbishop Asks Catechists To Teach True History Of Local Church

Updated: June 27, 2008 11:59 AM GMT
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Catechists should include local Church history in their lessons so Catholic children will understand correctly their place in Sri Lankan society, says Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo. sr_colombo_1.gifLocal people "ridicule" Sri Lankan Christians as "children" of Portuguese colonialists, and "this creates an inferiority complex among them," the prelate told about 2,000 catechists, Sunday-school teachers, clergy and Religious on June 18. Hence catechists need to provide their students with a "correct version" of the history of Christianity in Sri Lanka, he said in his address at St. Joseph´s College in Colombo for the archdiocese´s Catechist Day celebration. Christianity existed in Sri Lanka long before the arrival of colonizers in the 16th century, Archbishop Gomis pointed out. "Teach children catechism and also the history of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka bravely and truthfully," he told the group. According to the archbishop, some history books written during the colonial period claim the Portuguese introduced Christianity, omitting deliberately or through ignorance that Christian Arab and Persian traders brought the faith here a thousand years earlier. "Christianity was in existence in our country before the Portuguese arrived. Tell this history bravely," he said. Children hear different stories from others, he noted, stories such as Buddhism came to Sri Lanka 2,500 years ago but Christianity was introduced only 500 years ago, after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. "Children listen to such distorted stories," he lamented. Archbishop Gomis reminded the catechists and Sunday-school teachers of the importance of their vocation, especially since most Catholics study in state-run education institutions since the government nationalized schools in the 1960s. A correct understanding of Christianity is essential today more than ever, he told them, because Buddhist extremists, with the backing of influential monks, are attacking the Church. Buddhists form close to 70 percent of Sri Lanka´s population and Catholics less than 7 percent. Jacintha Jacob, 28, a catechist, told UCA News the "distorted history" written during the colonial period has been taken as true for many years. "Many Christians in the country are unaware of their own history and believe that missionaries who came with the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists introduced Christianity to Sri Lanka," she said. "Their missionary policy of putting up a church and school was successful. Many Buddhists and Hindus joined Christians in these schools. Many embraced Christianity and believe it was introduced by the missionaries," Jacob continued. As a result, catechists and Sunday-school teachers "have a greater responsibility today than ever before." According to Mahavamsa (the great chronicle), the son of Emperor Asoka of India introduced Buddhism to the island 2,552 years ago during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. Local Church scholars say Nestorians from Persia and St. Thomas Christians from India introduced Christianity here in the fifth century. The carving of a Nestorian cross on a boulder in Anuradhapura has been cited by archeologists as evidence of Persian Christian traders in the city. The ancient capital of Anuradhapura is nearly 3,000 years old. Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948, after nearly 500 years of colonial rule under the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British. END

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