COLOMBO, SRI LANKA, 3 DECEMBER 2008
Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight today opened the Caritas Trade Fair and Exhibition in Sri Lanka’s capital city Colombo, with the country’s Minister for Science and Technology, Professor Thissa Vitharana.
The fair, which is being held in the city’s Vihara Maha Devi Park, is part of Caritas Sri Lanka’s 40th anniversary celebrations. More than 80 stalls showcased a range of handicrafts, agricultural produce and food and drink products from throughout Sri Lanka, many of them from Caritas-sponsored income generation projects that were set up after the devastating tsunami that hit the island in December 2004.
The two-day event was a unique opportunity for small entrepreneurs to bring their produce into the city and sell directly to the public and local retailers. The opening ceremony was also attended by the Archbishop of Colombo Dr Oswald Gomis, the Director of Caritas Sri Lanka Fr Damian Fernando, plus bishops, priests, directors and staff representing Caritas Sri Lanka’s 13 Diocesan centres.
40th anniversary celebration of Caritas Sri Lanka
Colombo 4th December 2008
Speech by Dr Lesley-Anne Knight
Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis
It is an enormous pleasure to be at the birthday party of one of the Caritas family. Caritas in Sri Lanka is a highly reputable, much loved member of the global Caritas confederation and on behalf of our President Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez and all of the other 161 Caritas members, I congratulate you all and thank you for the privilege of sharing this special 40th year moment.
Caritas, all our Caritas members, at parish, diocesan and national level, make up Caritas Internationalis. We are at the heart of the Church’s mission, a sign of love that God has for the whole of humanity; a mission so beautifully expressed too by SEDEC as “Journeying together for a just society”. Our belonging to Caritas Internationalis also has significance for our mission… Our very name, Caritas Internationalis, means “the love between nations”.
As Caritas Sri Lanka marks its 40th anniversary, it is also a time to mark the enormous successes and celebrate with thanksgiving the graces of God, and above all the dedication of the Sri Lankan Bishops who have made Caritas and the cause of justice and peace the “opus proprium” of our Church in Sri Lanka. I congratulate our Sri Lankan Bishops, together with your priests and people for your leadership, vision and pastoral care.
But for Caritas Sri Lanka a 40th anniversary is also a time to look forward, to renewal and new beginnings. We are at the heart of the Church’s mission to love and serve the poor and the Church too in this is called periodically to renewal, into a deeper knowledge of her identity, faithful to what is given in the gospels but also faithful to enter further into this mystery. Caritas Sri Lanka is 40 years old in the year of St Paul. And we remember how St Paul summoned the Church to open herself and so become a better image of our Lord in whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ…” (Galatians 3,28)
Our Church in Sri Lanka and Caritas understand well that call in a multi-faith society torn by sorrow and strife… and joins too as a member of the world-wide Caritas family to face the challenges of our global world.
Whether we are talking about financial upheavals and economic recession, global warming and climate change, migration of whole communities and human trafficking, armed conflict or natural disasters, there is a global dimension that makes it impossible for humanity to escape its collective responsibilities.
As Caritas people we need to be constantly asking ourselves how we can be faithful to what we have received from the gospels and the tradition of our Church, and at the same time faithful to the gifts and opportunities that God offers in this new world in which humanity is bound together more closely than ever before. We will need to face the challenges of our changing climate, a new economic dynamism, the urgent cries for peace. And we will need to do so walking the road together “journeying always towards a more just society.” In the words of Pope Paul VI in Populorum Progressio, “We must walk the road together, united in hearts and minds.”
Caritas Sri Lanka has a key role to play in response to these new challenges, with renewed energy and commitment in the human response to God’s love. It is at the service of the Church’s response, not just to the suffering and injustices of a world economy that brings plenty to some and destitution and violence to others. Caritas is an expression of what the Church is as the sign and sacrament of “the unity of the entire human race.” (Lumen Gentium 1)
Let us as Caritas people embody the love and outreach of God himself to those in need, regardless of who they are, and what is their faith, if any.
I would like to end with a personal reflection of my experience as I have visited Caritas programmes with my husband Mark over the past few days here with you in Sri Lanka. There is a well-known writer of English literature, Oscar Wilde, who said: “ Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” You have certainly in this beautiful land your share of sorrow. But our experience has been one of love, hope, compassion, creativity, initiative, forgiveness and community lived in joy. And all of that too makes me say this is surely holy ground.
My thanks and congratulations to Fr Damian Fernando the Director of Caritas Sri Lanka, to the staff and all who have made Caritas Sri Lanka. Happy 40th Birthday!