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Season of Lent

ASH WEDNESDAY: The Season of Lent is significant for Christians all over the world as a period of prayer and repentence. During this season the Christians perform penance and acts of contrition remembering the agony and suffering Christ underwent for the salvation of mankind.

According to Christian belief Adam, the first man on earth was created by God with soil. On Ash Wednesday at the Holy Mass, the priest reminded the devotees with the sign of cross on each one’s forehead with ash that we are dust and to dust we return”.

Thus it reminds us the inevitability of death and the importance of virtuous life necessary for the everlasting happiness after death.

The ash used on the Ash Wednesday is generally made by burning the palm leaves used on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. On Palm Sunday, the Christians commemorate the triumphant entry of Christ to Jerusalem where people welcomed him carrying olive branches shouting “Hossanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of God. Hossanna in the highest”. (Mattew 21-10)

In Sri Lanka, the Oratorian priests in the Dutch times introduced carrying tender coconut palms instead of Olive branches for the procession on Palm Sunday.

Catholics make crosses out of these tender coconut leaves and preserve them until the Ash Wednesday of the following year, where they burn them for ash.

The Season of Lent lasts for forty days from Ash Wednesday until the feast of the Resurrection of Christ on the Easter Sunday. Christ before he began his public life spent forty days in prayer, meditation and fasting in preparation of his great ministry. In remembrance of this forty days have been set apart for Lent in the Liturgical Calendar.

In the past Catholics strictly followed the Season of Lent as a period of penance and repentance. They fasted every Friday and abstained from eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent. They avoided weddings, feasts, celebrations and all forms of merrymaking. It was a time for prayer, penance and meditation.

In the evenings people in Catholic villages used to get together and recite Pasan, sermons on sufferings of Christ and plaintive hymns. In the past it was a common sight to hear groups of Catholics singing aloud Pasan at nightfall along the Western coastal belt in Sri Lanka.

Pasan in the present form was introduced by Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez. ‘Pasan’ or lamentations on agonies of Christ was composed in laudable language of Prasasthi Kavyas or eulogistic poems set to a mixture of Carnatic ragas and folk music. The sermons were taken from ‘Dukprapthi Prasangaya’ also written by Fr. Jacome Gonsalvez.

Along with Pasan and Sermons, prayers like ‘Kayaduskara Prarthanava’ and ‘Maluyane Yakgnawa’ were recited in plaintive tones in the chanting style of Sinhala prose. These Sermons, Pasan and plaintive chants helped to create a penitential atmosphere for the season.

The times have changed. Today the Lenten rules are relaxed and the Catholics are bound to fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday Lenten traditions like detachment and self-denial are not observed.

Many extravagant celebrations and feasts do take place during the season. This is because they say that authentic Christian living is more important than self-imposed penances.

Nevertheless, since of late an effort is made by the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka to revive some Lenten traditions and practices like Pasan, Sermons and plaintive hymns. More attention is also paid on penance, meditation and Way of the Cross.

Extravagant celebrations and feasts are discouraged during the Lent. We hope that these endeavours of the Church to enliven the Season of Lent and bring forth its significance would meet with success.

(The writer is a former High Court Judge)

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Archbishop laments degeneration of values in society



BLESSING THE NEW CHURCH: Archbishop of Colombo Most Rev. Oswald Gomis blessing the new church of Infant Jesus at Annasiwatta recently. Rev. Fr. Sunil de Silva, Rev. Fr. Justin Silva and Rev. Fr. Jayantha Nimal are also in the picture.
Picture by Ja-Ela Group Cor.

Ja-Ela: There is a severe degeneration of moral and spiritual values among present day society. The liquor menace, gambling and other vices have caused this unfortunate situation, said Archbishop of Colombo Most Rev. Oswald Gomis.

The Archbishop made these observations at the consecration ceremony of the new church dedicated to Infant Jesus built at Annasiwatta, Nivandama recently.

The Archbishop said throughout the world we could observe a vicious society. There were times when society abhorred even the killing of animals and was shocked to hear of murders and other crimes.

The Archbishop said the church dedicated to Infant Jesus in Czechoslovakia became world famous for its miracles which drew vast crowds in the past notwithstanding the rigid laws and regulation and suppression imposed by its past communist regime.

Lourdes became internationally famous after a French girl miracously witnessed Mother Mary. Christians believe that churches dedicated to Infant Jesus and Lourde’s, Grottos are blessed with miracles. The new church dedicated to Infant Jesus built at Annasiwatta would facilitate a religious and social reawakening in the area.

Nivandama Neegrodharamadhipati Ven. Nivandama Nandaloka Thera, Archbishop’s Secretary Rev. Fr. Sunil de Silva, Bakthi Prabodhana Editor Rev. Fr. Justin Silva, Midellawita Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Jayantha Nimal and Rev. Fr. James Wanasinghe were also present. Philanthropist Thomas Jayasinghe donated the plot of land to build the new church.

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Ahamadiyya Founder’s day



Supreme Head Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad

FOUNDER’S DAY: The Ahamadiyya Muslim Community which marks the founder’s day on March 23 was established under Divine guidance to revive the high moral and spiritual values. It encourages interfaith dialogue, and diligently seeks to remove misunderstandings between all faiths.

It advocates peace, mutual respect, love and understanding among followers of various faiths. It firmly believes that there must not be any compulsion in matters of religion. It strongly rejects violence and terrorism, in any form and under any pretext.

The Community strives to revive faith in Allah; to expound spiritual beauties and excellences of the teachings of Allah; to infuse hope, faith and course in the hearts of all races and nations of the world; and inculcate among them the true brotherhood. Thus it seeks to unite humanity with its Creator and thereby establish peace throughout the world.

After the demise of its founder in 1908, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been led by elected Successors (Caliphs). The Present Caliph (Supreme Head), Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, was elected in 2003, and is the fifth successor.

The Caliph (Khalifat-ul-Masih) is the spiritual and administrative Head of the Community. The Community is further organised into various auxiliary organisations for women, children, youth and senior men.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community endeavors to serve humanity by creating awareness about high morals, for instance, via publications, sermons and other forms of media. Most notable is the publication of the Holy Qur’an - with translations in over 60 languages. Extracts from the Holy Qur’an, traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and writing of the Promised Messiah have been published in over 100 languages.

Other community publications include more than 80 books of the Promised Messiah, numerous magazines and newspapers, and books including a remarkable one by the fourth Caliph of the Community late Hazrat Mirza Thahir Ahmad titled, “Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth” - dealing with these concepts in light of scientific evidence and the teaching of Holy Qur’an.

Another outstanding achievement of the Community is the Muslim Television Ahamadiyya - MTA, a 24 - hour global satellite learning channel.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is international in scope, with communities established in over 185 countries, in Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. Its present estimated membership exceeds 220 million worldwide, and is increasing everyday. It is the most dynamic and positive religious force on the earth today.

Many of its members are highly educated, including a Nobel Laureate in Physics (Dr. Abdus Salam), a Chief Justice of the International Court of Justice and President of the United Nations General Assembly (Sir. Zafarullah Khan).

Many are successful businessmen, professors, academics, engineers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals, but the majority of its membership comes from those with modest means. Nevertheless, the level of dedication of all its members is unmatched.

Members of the Community have earned the distinction of being a law-abiding, peaceful, hard-working and benevolent citizens all over the world. The members of the community are expected to illustrate in their daily lives high levels of social, moral and spiritual values. They are also committed to promote friendship, goodwill and righteousness among themselves, and among all communities and nations.

The Ahamadiyya Muslim Community is noted for its active engagement in social welfare and in meeting the medical and educational needs, not only of its own members but also of communities in which they reside. For instance, in Africa and Asia, there are scores of Ahamadiyya Muslim Schools and medical facilities operations at no cost to the public.

The Community has launched several social projects to help developing countries in Africa and Asia, and to assist victims of wars and natural disasters like in India, Turkey, Bosnia or Kosovo.

At the time of natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami, the Ahamadiyya Muslim Community renders its services through its charity organisation Humanity First. In 2004 tsunami, a team of Ahmadi doctors arrived in Sri Lanka and served the affected.

In matters of finance, the Ahamdiyya Muslim Community is self-supporting and completely independent. Its main source of income is the voluntary contributions, and the spirit of sacrifice of its members.

In addition to occasional appeals to raise funds for special projects, the members are expected to regularly donate to the Community a specific portion of their income. Above all, millions of its members routinely offer countless hours of regular voluntary services, to assist the community to achieve its objectives.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded by Hazarat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India, in 1889. He declared that he was the Promised Messiah and al-Imam al-Madhi, and that his advent was in fulfilment of the various prophecies regarding the Promised Reformer of the Latter Days.

He founded Ahmadiyya Muslim Jammath under Divine Command, which is not a new religion and represents the essence of the pristine Islam in all its purity, as enunciated by the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

The Community established by Hazrat Ahmad is an embodiment of the benevolent message of all world religions, peace, universal brotherhood, and submission to the Divine injunctions and commandments.

Hazrat Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, claimed to be that Promised One who was awaited throughout the world, in various faiths. He also proclaimed that the religion chosen by God for the Universal and final manifestation of His Unity was Islam.

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Essence of all religions guides humanity

RELIGIOUS ESSENCE: To understand why mankind opts for religion and what is there in religion that cannot be fulfilled by anything else we need to know the meaning of life and religion.

Every human being should clarify one’s opinion on the cause of need for religion in proportion to one’s knowledge and understanding of one’s self and the surrounding world. Religion is a general concept and not exclusive to certain researchers or class of society.

Examination and discussion on the cause and necessity for religion is a generalised concept which every person is entitled to contemplate.

Now what are the feelings and needs that have led men to religious thought and belief in the widest sense of the words? A little consideration will suffice to show us that the most varying emotions preside over the birth of religious thought and experience.

With primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions - fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this stage of existence understanding of causal connections is usually poorly developed, the human mind creates illusory beings more or less analogous to itself on whose wills and actions these fearful depend.

Thus one tries to secure the favour of these beings by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices which according to the tradition handed down from generation to generation, propitiate them or make them well disposed towards a mortal. In this sense it is speaking of a religion of fear.

This though not created is in an important degree stabilized by the formation of a special priestly caste which sets itself up as a mediator between the people and the beings they fear and erects a hegemony on this basis.

A religion be it any faith survives on the merits of its teachings and its noble practices. Despite appeal or allurement even a microscopic minority has not really easily deserted their avowed religion.

The egalitarianism preached in Buddhism if properly followed can entice so many followers like the Hindus in India who have been drawn towards the precepts and practices of the Noble master.

A good religion which offers solace to believers should not be obliged to a civil government or political state to exist. Religions should rely on their intrinsic virtues and values. Religions should not be subject to vicissitudes and vagaries of governments. Religion rests on conviction.

If one abandons one’s faith for another then there is something deficient in the faith deserted and something more appealing in the newly chosen faith. Monotheism embedded in a theocracy can only spell danger in a community that is pluralist in the faiths it contains.

If we wish to spread our teachings elsewhere then such action should be tolerant of reciprocity and allow other faiths too be preached. To consolidate and build one’s faith and not to loose followers makes it more fascinating and captuating.

By having a smattering of one’s self and the world of existence one may pose the question as to whether one should have thoughts ideas and activities in the form of religion along with the common and usual thoughts ideas and works which we have to accomplish for our natural existence.

This question is the first degree of knowledge impelling man to pose the question about the cause and necessity for religion. Let us bear in mind that to whatever extent man’s knowledge of himself, God, the world and the society in which he or she is living is enhanced and questions about religion and its necessity for rational life will become more serious.

This will not be the case if within man there is a factor such as malicious doubt preventing one from drawing conclusions of the knowledge obtained or a type of self conceit intoxicates one so much that oneself, God, the world of existence and fellow creatures are not significant in His sight. The religions of all civilized people especially the people of the orient are primarily moral religions.

The development from a religion of fear to moral religion is a great step in peoples lives. Yet the primitive religions are based entirely on fear and the religions of civilized people purely on morality.

This is a prejudice against which we must be on our guard. The truth is that all religions are a varying blend of the both types. With this differentiation where on the higher levels of social life, the religion of morality predominates.

The west which has blazed a trail in creating an awareness of human rights and in codifying them into law needs to respond empathetically towards cultures which profess values and religious traditions which are different from its own.

If it lacks this sensitivity it doesn’t possess the moral authority to preach to the rest of the world, on the rights of man. Thus it could be seen that in regard to cultural insensitivity those sections of the west which make light of the religious sensitivity of others match in callousness.

It is a sign of our times that human society’s are growing increasingly insensitive to each others susceptibilities. That such tendencies are seen in the West points to increasing moral degeneration among some sections in a part of the world.

It is hoped that this crisis would alert the adherents of all religions to respect each others faiths and also traditions. In the religious sphere there could never be superiors and subordinates or High and Low religions.

Every major religion teaches humanity reverence for life and mutual accommodation. They all speak of the oneness of humanity. This being the case practitioners of religions need to forgive and forget each others faults and transgressions. They also need to scrupulous follow the rule that mankind is equal.

Considering that the most fundamental questions about life are always raised by sound reason and inner nature and not by partial theoretical reason if these two very significant issues are maintained as factors and motives for greater attention and inclination to religion without considering that religion has invited to and stressed these two factors and its concomitant question about the cause and need for religion will be a question outside of the realm of religion.

That is to say it is a question which does not stem from religion and religious text.

Therefore the answer provided by reason for this question should be an answer provided by factors outside of the domain of religion. Common is the anthropomorphic character of the conception of God.

In general only individuals of exceptional endowments and exceptionally high minded communities rise to any considerable extent above this level. But there is another stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form.

It should be called the cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, specially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.

The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvellous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. All intolerance of every religion should be unreservedly condemned and one has to be allergically sensitive to it even if violence is perpetrated on another’s religious edifice.

Non can permit unscrupulous conversion of those young and immature and those who had not attained the age of reason.

Nor can one allow the practice of any belief that provides for human sacrifice or other obnoxious deplorable practices. In our country as all faiths are transparently practised it is easy to ensure that nothing which is despicable is practised.

Those who believe in and wish to follow a faith after reaching the age of understanding and reason should not be forcibly prevented from subscribing to a faith chosen freely and with no compulsion one should be free to follow a chosen faith.

Religion should not be made into an ineradicable problem owing to intolerance and discrimination by a few.

The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by a cosmic religious feeling which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it.

Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints.

Religion is the belief in the existence of the one God who sustains and governs the world of existence and whose justice prevails. God is a being in whom no passion and desire can penetrate and one who is proto-type of all perfected attributes.

God is a being who has created the world based on his superior wisdom and who has wisdom and who has placed man on the course leading to perfection and meeting God by granting man the guides; God is this being who has implanted in man the belief in eternity without which existence and life will be an insoluble enigma.

All these beliefs are documented by sound reason and natural perception without being forced to initiate. Social impulses are a source of the crystallization of Religion. Fathers and Mothers and the leaders of larger human communities are mortal and fallible.

The desire for guidance love and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of God.

This is the God of Providence who protects disposes, rewards and punishes, the God who according to the limits of the believers outlook lovers and cherishes the life of the tribe or of the human race or even or life itself, the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied longing, he who preserves the souls of the dead. Undoubtedly without religion the human race would have perished a long time ago.

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