Archbishop of Colombo His Grace the Most Rev Dr
A warm and sincere friend
RSP, USP, MSc
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”
are the words that sprang from the heart of Mary, our Heavenly Mother,
at a time when she experienced her special election by God for a unique
mission. It is with these same words giving expression to the immense
sense of gratitude to God that His Grace the Most Rev Dr Malcolm Ranjith
assumed the pivotal role of the Chief Shepherd of Colombo in August last
Most Rev Dr
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has now elevated His Grace the
Archbishop to the dignity of a Cardinal - the highest rank in the Roman
Catholic Church for a Priest. At a solemn ceremony to be held in St.
Peter’s Basilica which is officially referred to as ‘Consistory for the
Creation of Cardinals’, the Holy Father will bestow on the Archbishop
the biretta, that is the Cardinal’s red hat as well as his ‘title’ or
titular Church which is found in Rome along with the Cardinal’s ring.
His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm who is 62, will become part of the
‘College of Cardinals’ whose very crimson colour vestments symbolize the
commitment to serving the Gospel “to the spilling of blood”, as recited
in the Latin formula which they will swear.
The prime duty of the 120 Cardinals under the age of 80 will be to
take part at Conclaves that ‘Elect the Pope’. In ecclesiastical
heraldry, Cardinal s surmount their ‘Coat of Arms’ with a scarlet galero
with thirty tassels which is an ancient symbol of their office.
The portrait of Cardinal Malcolm in the Ministry of the God Almighty
is one immensely blessed and decorated with many firsts unparallel in
the history. He has had a fast rise in the church hierarchy. He was
ordained a Priest at 27 by Pope Paul VI in Rome, consecrated a Bishop at
43 by Pope John Paul II, elevated an Archbishop at 53 by Pope John Paul
II and now made a Cardinal at 62 by Pope Benedict XVI. Known as a
tireless servant of truth, justice and freedom, he has won love, respect
and admiration of Catholics all over the world.
Cardinal Malcolm is a warm and sincere friend gifted with enough
charisma to enthuse others. He is a lucid and popular teacher of Holy
Scripture; a brilliant though self-effacing intellectual; a preacher par
excellence; a benefactor of countless projects; a sparkling companion...
but above all, a missionary fired with apostolic zeal to proclaim Christ
as the Redeemer of the World.
His Eminence Malcolm has mastered ten languages - Italian, German,
French, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, English, Sinhala and Tamil. His
ability to converse and understand the problems of the Catholic Church
spread throughout the world and his commitment and dedication in the
execution of the enormous responsibilities of the Universal Church has
made him one of the most influential voices in the world. His admirers
say his “bright face is always lit up with a smile.” Many Sri Lankans
who have worked with him say he “never says no” to any request, even in
extreme difficult situations. They describe him as having a way with
words and a manner of conveying them laced with affection that puts
people at ease.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa
He once said that “love for the liturgy and love for the poor... have
been the compass of his life as a priest.” I have had the honour of
associating him throughout the last 25 years. I treasure his humbleness
very much and wish to quote from a letter I received last year in
response to a congratulatory message, “ Please ask the God not so much
to shower me with crowns as much as to make me his own in sheer
faithfulness to what he expects from me.
Earthly crowns pass away but Heavenly ones are those that His
servants should always cherish”.
Cardinal Malcolm has always promoted inter-faith dialogue in Sri
Lanka as he believes that same can eliminate potential causes of
tensions and disagreements between the religious and ethnic groups that
make up the country. He once said that dialogue is vital and fundamental
and as Catholics we must celebrate the richness of the Word of God
incarnate in our lives, families and communities.
On June 16, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as the Metropolitan
Archbishop of Colombo. In a letter to then Archbishop Malcolm, Pope
Benedict said that “I wish to express my sincere thanks for the
fidelity, the commitment and competence with which you exercised that
office” and also expressed that “we have reason to be encouraged by the
good you will be able to perform among the peoples of your land.”
Cardinal Malcolm was among the 34 Metropolitan Archbishops across the
world and the first Sri Lankan to receive his pallium from Pope Benedict
on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29, 2009. He was greeted
with warmth and solemnity upon his arrival in Sri Lanka on July 31, 2009
and took formal canonical possession of the Metropolitan See of Colombo
with an Eucharistic Celebration on August 5, 2009.
First Sri Lankan Secretary of Congregation
On December 10, 2005 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI appointed then
Archbishop Malcolm as the Secretary of the Holy Father’s powerful
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He
is the first and only Sri Lankan to be bestowed with such a unique
honour of directly assisting the Holy Father as the Secretary of a
Congregation in the Vatican City.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments is one of the key Congregations of the Roman Curia and
attends to everything pertaining to the Apostolic See concerning the
regulation and promotion of the sacred liturgy, primarily of the
sacraments, without prejudice to the competence of the Congregation for
Doctrine of the Faith.
He is the first Sri Lankan to be appointed a Papal Nuncio. He served
in Jakarta as the Holy Father’s Apostolic Ambassador to Indonesia and
East Timor from April 29, 2004 until his return to Rome. The Catholic
Church in Indonesia consists of 17,000 islands and spreads to 37
Dioceses and has one of the biggest Catholic populations amongst the
countries in Asia. Upon his appointment as the Papal Nuncio, he was also
raised to the rank of Titular Archbishop of Umbriatico.
During his tenure he succeeded in enhancing mutual relations between
the Vatican State and Indonesia to greater heights. He won the
admiration of the church hierarchy for the pivotal role he played in
assisting the establishment of cordial relations between the local
Churches and Governments.
First Sri Lankan Adjunct Secretary
He is also the first Sri Lankan Bishop to be appointed to the Holy
See. On October 1, 2001, he was made the Adjunct Secretary of the
Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples along with the
appointment of the President of the Pontifical Mission Societies by Pope
John Paul II. It is the Holy Father’s ministry for the coordination of
the missionary efforts of the Church and involves overview and growth of
the local Churches in the missionary countries.
This Ministry coordinates over 1,100 Archdioceses, Dioceses,
Apostolic Vicarates and Apostolic Prefectures as well as Sui Juris
Missions. The Adjunct Secretary is the World President as well as the
International President of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which are
the instruments of the Pope for enhancing support through prayer and
contributions for the mission of the Church.
First Bishop of Ratnapura
He was also the first shepherd to be appointed by the Holy See to the
newly carved Diocese of Ratnapura. He took office as the Bishop of
Ratnapura on November 2, 1995. His appointment was hailed as a welcome
spark to kindle the fire of missionary zeal in the hearts of the clergy
and laity in his diocese.
It was evident from the unprecedented numbers of well-wishers of all
religions that thronged to welcome him. The unflagging zeal and
leadership displayed by him in guiding the flock of Ratnapura perhaps
paved him the way to the Holy See.
Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo
On June 17, 1991 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Colombo and Titular Bishop of Cabarsussi. He received his Episcopal
consecration on August 31, 1991 from Archbishop Nicholas Marcus
Fernando. He served as the Vicar General in charge of Parochial
Apostolate and Lay Apostolate from 1991 to 1995. His peers elected him
the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka
function attended by the President
He won the admiration of the entire nation for efficient execution of
his role as the Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the
Beatification of Ven. Joseph Vaz and the visit of Pope John Paul II to
Sri Lanka in January 1995.
Priesthood and missionary work
On June 29, 1975 he was ordained to the priesthood by Pope Paul VI in
St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
He then pursued post graduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical
Institute in Rome from where he obtained a Licentiate in Sacred
Scripture in 1978.
He also attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he
undertook scriptural research and obtained a Special Certificate in
On his return from Rome, he was appointed Assistant Parish Priest of
Pamunugama in 1978 and his dynamism and enthusiasm of the certainly had
its impact on the villages of Kepungoda and Dungalapitiya. He literally
shook that sleepy, backward fishing villages with its rocky beaches and
was instrumental in supplying electricity, building houses and
modernising the area.
His missionary odyssey then took him through the parishes of Payagala
and Kalutara where he blazed a trail of total commitment to uplift the
poverty stricken fisher folk and built a vibrant Christian community.
‘Seth Sarana’, the Archdiocesan Centre for Poor Relief is his brainchild
and remains a lasting monument to his commitment to alleviate the
sufferings of the poor.
In 1983, Fr. Malcolm was named the National Director of Pontifical
Mission Societies and under his enthusiastic direction a new and urgent
sense of mission was created among the clergy and the people. He revived
the Society of the Holy Childhood to inspire a spirit of missionary zeal
in children. As Diocesan Co-ordinator for Human Development he
introduced bold initiatives in areas such as housing, fisheries and
various self-employment projects.
Birth and early life
Born on November 15, 1947 as the only son of Don William and Mary
Winifreeda and Baptised in Polgahawela, he had his education at De La
Salle College, Mutwal. He entered St. Aloysius’ Seminary in Borella in
1965. From 1966 to 1970, he pursued studies in theology and philosophy
at the National Seminary in Kandy. During the regency, Bro. Malcolm
served SEDEC in the district of Ratnapura building homes for the needy.
He was thereafter sent to Rome for priestly studies and graduated from
the Pontifical Urbanian University with a Baccalaureate in Theology.
The writer is a freelance journalist whose by-line appears in English
newspapers and magazines regularly. This article is adapted from a
tribute to then Archbishop Malcolm published in 1997
Most Rev Dr
* Born as the only son to
Patabendige Don William and Hettiarachchige Mary Winifred,
on November 15, 1947 at Polgahawela.
Dr Malcom Ranjith
as a young priest
* Baptised at the Church
dedicated to the Virgin Mother of Lourdes, at Polgahawela.
* Received primary education
at St. Andrew’s Vidyalaya Mutuwal, at De La Salle College,
Mutuwal and at St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena.
* Entered St. Aloysius Minor
Seminary at Borella on March 15, 1965.
* Sent to Rome by late
Thomas Cardinal Cooray OMI to continue his Theological and
Sacred Scripture studies at the Pontifical Urbanian
* Ordained a Priest of God
in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 26, 1975 in Rome by late
Pope Paul VI
* Pope John Paul II,
elevating him to the position of Archbishop appointed him
the Titular Archbishop of Umbriatico
* He became the first Sri
Lankan priest to hold a Vatican Diplomatic post