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Independence Day Message 2018- From the Bishop of Kurunagala

Sri Lanka is celebrating Seventy Years of Independence from the colonial past in this year 2018. The journey towards our independence and the journey from the independent era towards the modern times has not been easy. There have been much points of debate, conflicts and continued struggles. Sometimes we as the citizens and onlookers doubt why a small nation such as ours with people such as us who are naturally friendly and smiling, cannot live in peace and Unity. Unity in our country has had many changes made to its meaning through these seventy years. Our country is blessed with many resources from natural to biodiversity to a rich heritage to human potential. Our country is even more blessed to have within us many of the great religious traditions, cultures, languages and ideologies. All these aspects have enriched the life of the country from many years even before the foreign rule set in. On an important occasion such as this, we must ask from ourselves whether we treat this diversity or mixture as our strength or as our threat?

There are many people who often think that we have to compromise our Diversity to work together. This is the western model. Because of their homogeneous structures they are able to have this model. For instance, almost all the British people are able to speak to each other in English. Therefore, they can use English as their focus for unity by accepting other languages as Diversity. However, this model will not suit us in Sri Lanka. Not only for the languages. But also for our cultures, religions and thought forms this model creates more problems than solutions. That’s why we have to emphasise Diversity in Unity. A classic example for this comes from the passion narrative in the gospel of John. According to the writer of this gospel when Jesus was crucified his offence on the top of the cross was written in 3 languages. This was written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.
What was reason for this: Because “Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire; it represented human government, power, and conquest. Greek was the international language of culture; it represented human wisdom, art, and commerce. Hebrew was the religious language of the Jews; it represented the Covenant Race, the Law of God, and the means by which God made Himself known to man. In the providence of God, all of these human and divine institutions were addressed when Jesus was crucified”
Most probably Jesus spoke Aramaic at home. His religious language was Hebrew. Official language of the Roman Empire was Latin and the Universal Language of that era was Greek.
We have a similar situation in Sri Lanka. For instance, one language is enough to live in a remote village, to go to the next village one needs two languages. To venture out anywhere beyond you need three languages.
All these realities remind us the necessity to emphasise the Diversity in Unity. The emphasis is on the word ‘Diversity’. In the sense that it leads to Unity. The model that was probably pressed down on the country was Unity in Diversity where the emphasis is on the word ‘Unity’. 
The second form is much easy to follow as it is like a blanket that is thrown over whatever differences that are present and then looks at the blanket and say it ‘it covers all the differences’. 
The first form is probably more challenging as we look around and then we see much Diversity and we question how can ‘I’ or ‘We’ in my group work or coexist with others who are different to what I stand for, as they follow a different faith or speak a different language. It needs a lot of compromise, flexibility and most of all respect to know the ‘other’ in his or her background. Knowing the ‘other’ is an educational venture as well as a spiritual venture. It is educational as we learn about the other faith and culture. It teaches us about their history and what they do and why they do it. It teaches us about their anxieties and insecurities. On the spiritual dimension it teaches us about another person who lives and moves among us, God’ creation just as we look at ourselves. The same love and mercy that God has poured into ‘me’ is also poured into the ‘other’. If I am ignorant to reject this, I reject God’s love and mercy. Jesus himself throughout his working life met, talked, learned and collaborated with many of the ‘others’ in that society. The Jews themselves were broken into many sects and they were under a colonial rule, the Roman. Jesus’ ministry in that context was not to change the entire world. He worked with each person, he transformed many of them, he taught all of them to bear one another, to care, to reconcile and if possible to go for the highest form of love that is to sacrifice oneself for the other. 
This positive attitude for our neighbour is not only a Christian principle it can be found in many faiths and even in ethical and psychological realms. If we can be that person who can coexist with the ‘other’ it makes our personality richer and it broadens our minds. It makes us move to a place where we see potential in each other and we challenge ourselves to work with them in different ways. This will greatly increase our perception of the ‘other’ and will not give into suspicion, doubt and negativities. Let us hope that all of us will be able to foster this kind of attitude so that we are able to see Diversity as potential and Unity as an outcome of Diversity. 

Rt.Rev.Keerthisiri Fernando
Bishop of Kurunagala,
Church of Ceylon,
Sri Lanka

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