The peacemaker

Jaffna’s Bishop, Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Saundaranayagam, reflects on Jaffna’s earlier relationship with the south, the ruptures that threatened it, and the potential for reconciliation. Photography by Kannan Arunasalam.

Join the discussion: 4 comments

  • Kannan Arunasalam says:

    We dropped in at the Bishop’s House on a leafy road just outside Jaffna town. The gatekeeper told us that the Bishop was in Mannar and wouldn’t be back until late in the evening. So we decided to visit St Mary’s Cathedral, built in 1789, just next door and then took a short walk to St Martin’s Seminary, where the Bishop had schooled. These charming old buildings, full of history, have thankfully survived the war.

    The next morning I telephoned Bishop’s House to see if he had returned. While I waited for the Bishop to take the phone, I tried to think how one should address a bishop. I had never spoken to one before and was so nervous that the obvious eluded me. I had gotten used to calling all the senior men I had met in Jaffna “uncle”, that I’m sure I called the Bishop “uncle” a couple of times during our telephone conversation.  Would he still agree to an interview with this blundering fool?  The Bishop ignored these slips, and we arranged to meet at his house later that day.

    The Bishop greeted me warmly, but there was no time for pleasantries. The Bishop took his work seriously and we went straight into the interview. He talked about the church’s role in giving the ordinary people a voice during the years of war and now, in facing contemporary challenges for the people of Jaffna. The Church gave him the confidence to stand up to anyone that threatened the freedoms of the powerless. You had to admire his dedication, but I was determined to get the Bishop to loosen up a bit, to talk more about himself, and not just the about problems for the Jaffna man and woman. After all, I had come to talk about his life in connection to the wider events he spoke about.

    The Bishop dropped his guard just once. After asking him why he decided to join the church as a young man, I asked him whether he had always wanted to be a bishop. Admittedly it was a rather silly question, but it seemed to work. With a little childlike chuckle, the Bishop went on to explain to me how it works in the church and opened up a little for the rest of the interview.

  • Priyanthi says:

    “no anxiety, no conflict, no competition’ – think we tend to forget the last.

  • Nelum Gamage says:

    I visited Jaffna four times.
    As a school girl.
    During the Ceasefire Agreement.
    Then in July and October this year.
    My visits were not limited to Jaffna town as such.
    I did visit the Mullaitivu jungles as well.

    I have an important observation to make.

    The youth in the north are still not into drugs, casinos and other forms of corruption prevalent elsewhere (I may be corrected if I am wrong).

    The elders in these areas, including the religious leaders, should see that situation does not change. It was heartening to read in Jehan Perera’s recent writing on his website that certain well known business groups are to create job opportunities in the north. But that may take time and may be too late.

  • (@iam_project) (@iam_project) says:

    Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful Christmas. Listen to the Jaffna bishop’s story: #lka elders


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