In Conversation with Bishop Gnanaprakasam
Anything can be Established with an Open Mind
The Bishop of Jaffna talks about a culture of compromise
There is nothing that cannot be accomplished with open-mindedness and the willingness to compromise. The use of words and practices that hurt the feelings of people from different religions must be stopped. The rights and sentiments of all people should be respected. The cooperation of everyone is essential to establish this mindset” says Rev. Justin Gnanaprakasam, the Bishop of Jaffna District.
THE CATAMARAN: 10 years after the end of the 30 year long ethnic war in Sri Lanka, the event of the Easter Sunday has brought people back to the dark period. What’s your opinion?
It is true that the Easter Sunday blasts have shocked the entire country. Subsequently, the sprouting of checkpoints and other security measures may have led people back to wartime memories. But the backgrounds and impacts of 30 years of war are incomparable with the Easter Sunday bombing. The background for the Easter Sunday blast is different. Even 10 years later, its causes and impacts have not yet been addressed. The masterminds of the Easter Sunday blast and those who carried it out have been identified. According to the information available to us, such attacks can no longer be carried out if authorities do not succumb to political pressures.
THE CATAMARAN: Violence against Christians has been revealed through these attacks. How has this happened in Sri Lanka?
Although there have been no Crusades since the 16th century, conflicts have taken place in various parts of the world mainly due to business rivalries between European Christian nations and Islamists. In modern history, a ‘Jihad’ mentality has manifested among strident Islamists. While the majority of Christians and Muslims wish to live peacefully, the mood of the minority Muslims remains a threat. This ‘Jihad’ mentality has developed and is a part of the massive ISIS Islamic State’s Achieve Through Violence Programme which launched the attack on Easter Sunday. Why they chose Sri Lanka is still a mystery.
THE CATAMARAN: What about the present state of conducting Mass with armed security?
Allowing devotees to enter of places of worship and pilgrimage sites after rigorous inspection by military and police is not acceptable. This has resulted in the decline of visitors. They have failed to take preventive measures despite being warned that such blasts were going to take place. The actions taken now are like closing the stables after the horses have bolted.
Next, there are concerns that need to be taken into consideration when military security is being provided to temples and schools. It is regrettable to notice that they were neglected. For example, when a father in the South received a telephone call to pick up his sick child at school, the incident of shooting and killing him when he was trying to enter the school premises was painful. This cannot be justified at all. Those who called him to pick up child should have informed the soldier at the school gate. Or the school administration should have stood at the entrance and taken father in. Doing nothing like that and simply having security personnel at the entrance only serves to show off that the Government is taking measures to protect their people.
THE CATAMARAN: The entire Muslim community is being seen today as guilty, how do feel about it?
It is unacceptable to hold the entire Muslim community responsible for attacks instigated by one group. Also isolating Muslims and inviting people to boycott Muslim business are all unacceptable. Most Muslims are against the bombings and denounce them vehemently. So they should not be seen as guilty.
THE CATAMARAN: What kinds of initiatives are taken from your side to overcome the racial and religious misunderstandings that are currently emerging?
It is well known that the Christian Leadership, (with the premise that violence against Muslims sometimes could occur) made a plea to Christian Leadership, and all the people of the country to observe endurance immediately after the bombings. Just days after the incident, priests of Christian churches visited key mosques in Jaffna, held discussions and guaranteed their safety. It was agreed to continue these discussions. Muslim leaders of Jaffna also visited the Bishop’s home and exchanged mutual understanding and friendship.
The Qutec-Caritas Center, which operates under the guidance of the Jaffna Bishop, continues the social welfare programmes among Muslims without any hindrance. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished with open-mindedness and the willingness to compromise. The use of words and practices that hurt the feelings of others must be stopped. The rights and sentiments of all religious people should be respected. The cooperation of all people is essential to establish this mindset among people
THE CATAMARAN: The most affected are those promoting messages of harmony. But some Buddhist leaders openly promote hatred. What are your thoughts?
Yes it is true. Extremists or those who offend other people’s religious feelings or reproach other religions should be treated as outcasts. We must boycott them and the things that benefit them. No matter who makes such comments, the government must take drastic action against them. People may be misguided by their preaching and go down the wrong path. The government must be proactive and take precautionary measures. There is no point in trying to bring the situation under control with the assistance of the army and police after everything has happened.