Algi Wijewickrema, in Island, May 2019, with this title
Many are the press articles and posts on social media heaping praise on His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s actions in the aftermath of the horrific Easter Sunday blasts of three churches and three major tourist hotels. My intention is not to add to the chorus of praise, deserved though they are, but to identify [those actions that the good Cardinal] which resulted in such plaudits. I hope this will enable politicians, et al to learn how to serve those whom they are supposed to give leadership to.
Though which came first is not important, one of the first things he did was to address his faithful, appealing them to remain calm. This, he did by helping them to think clearly in separating terrorists from peace-loving people of the Islam faith, with whom many of us have lived in harmony for generations. Doing this before any politician could even react, helped not only the Catholics but all Christian communities and the entire nation, defeating any expectations of the terrorists to have a bloodbath in this country.
Not only did the Cardinal appeal for calm from his faithful but he addressed the terrorists, at least, the ones who had not perished in the mayhem (he did not call them terrorists; he called them misguided youth), no doubt, in the hope that they would see the error of their ways. He went even further addressing the politicians to come forward without delay to protect the people. His was not to find who was at fault but to get those in authority to act (or should I say react), not to point a finger at who should have done what, but to get them to do their job in protecting the innocent people of this country.
As his Lord and Master had taught him, he visited his flock (“I was sick and you visited Me” – Mt 25:36) and when he visited the sites of devastation, his sorrow was obvious. Seeing his people dead, some injured, others left orphaned and destitute, not to mention his churches devastated, he was even seen wiping away tears. His words of sympathy and genuine feelings of love for them would no doubt have been some consolation to those grieving relatives as he personally led the prayer services for the burials. His visits to see the sites and the people affected was before any politician probably even thought of such a thing.
Thereafter in his interviews and addresses he told the politicians in no uncertain terms how they have failed their people and even going to the extent of telling them that he will give leadership to any street protests to get them to do the needful, if they failed in their duty. This even prompted a prominent Buddhist monk to remark that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith should be made the leader of a group of religious dignitaries so that the government can be told how to govern with genuine interest in their people. Knowing the Cardinal, I am sure he will not accept such positions but it was his genuine concern for the people that prompted this Buddhist monk to express his views as mentioned above.
He did not hesitate to cancel Masses and services in churches as the safety of his flock was uppermost in his mind. This, he said, he would have done on Easter Sunday also, if only he had been warned of the disaster. Such was his concern for his flock.
In an act that reminded me of the Gospel account of Jesus resisting temptation (Lk 4: 6-7 – “I will give you all their authority and splendor; If you worship me, it will all be yours.”), when offered a bullet proof car, his immediate reaction was “I don’t need a bullet proof car, God will look after me, but look after the safety of the people”. He did not say look after the Catholics or Christians but included all citizens of this country when he said people. To be have accepted such a luxury would have been really tempting and is what the politicians are used to, but not for the good Cardinal. To him the overall safety and security of the people was far more important.
I do believe there’s even lesson on leadership in his actions, not only to those governing the country but to the corporate bosses on how a leader should act in a crisis with concern for his people in mind and not his own survival.
There are some who have expressed their feelings that the Cardinal should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. While these thoughts are a genuine reflection of a grateful public, whether he is offered such high honor or not, I’m sure he will continue to serve his people and the nation and earn the reward of the eternal King rather than crave for rewards of this world.
May the Lord bless him with many blessings enabling him to serve this country and his flock and may the likes of him be plentiful in this land!