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Congratulations

We announce with great joy we have a new Bishop 

It is with great delight that I write in honour of Rev Dr Justin Gnanapragasam, the
Bishop-elect for the Jaffna Diocese. Even as I begin I hear the gale force winds and the
rain lashing down. I could not help being reminded of the descent of the Holy Spirit
upon the apostles. The painfully long time we waited for the announcement even
reminded me of the 4000 traditional biblical years the Jewish people waited for the
arrival of the Messiah. It has however been fully worth the wait. We are delighted that
with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Fr Justin has been appointed to be the shepherd
of the chosen people of the Jaffna Diocese. As we are all aware Fr Justin's appointment
has been widely welcomed. Despite the most appropriate choice having been made, the
delay in making the announcement is unacceptable. Unwittingly it might give the
impression that the choice was more difficult than it actually was. It is essential that the
new bishop enjoys the fullest confidence not only of the priests, the laity and the
religious in the Diocese but also that of the other religious groups. Vatican is not always
transparent in the way it operates but logistical reasons for the delay should not be
allowed to detract from the appropriate choice. I hope the Catholic Bishops Conference
Sri Lanka, the Apostolic Nuncio and the Vatican would take this matter far more
seriously if it has been ever a consideration in the past and that lessons have been learnt.
It might sound strange to some if I say that my interest and excitement in the
appointment of the Bishop of Jaffna goes back to the time of Bishop Emilianuspillai, the
first son of the soil to be appointed. I remember very well as a little boy my granduncle
Fr S J Stanislaus coming home as soon as he had heard of the appointment to give my
grandmother the news. The previous bishops had been missionaries from foreign lands
and Fr Stanislaus was part of a relentless campaign that the next bishop should be a
Tamil bishop. For different reasons I now appreciate the delight with which he brought
us the news!
When news of Fr Justin's appointment was conveyed to me I felt privileged that of all
the Bishops of Jaffna whom I knew, I hope Bishop-elect Gnanapragasam would permit

me to claim, I was closer to him than to any of his predecessors. I therefore take great
pleasure in expressing my personal wishes with those of his numerous well-wishers.
Bishop-elect Gnanapragasam possesses many qualities that make him the best choice. I
could not express it better than to quote what the Holy Father himself expects of his
bishops. He saw his
“Bishops  as  sentinels,  able  to  awaken  their  Churches;  men  able  to  cultivate  and  ripen 
God’s fields and pastors able to restore unity, sow nets and overcome division". 
We  would  all  agree  that  Bishop‐elect  Gnanapragasam,  possesses  in  abundance  the 
attributes that the Holy Father wishes to see in his Bishops. May the Holy Spirit grant him 
the graces to fulfill all his Episcopal duties.
It  is  not  my  intention  to  catalogue  his  various  qualifications  and  his  pastoral  and 
educational  experiences.  I  would  however  highlight  a  few  of  his  attributes.  The  primary 
duty  of  the  bishop  is  to  shepherd  his  flock  and  his  pastoral  work  has  been  greatly 
appreciated during his time in the parishes. In recognition of his ability to understand the 
needs  of  his  fellow  priests  he  was  appointed  Vicar  Forane  of  Ilavalai  district.   A  deep 
understanding  of  the  difficulties  that  a  priest  faces  has  been  a  feature  of  his  period  as 
Vicar General and would undoubtedly be of immense value as Bishop of the diocese.  
Bishops are appointed for many attributes and abilities. Bishop‐elect Gnanapragasam has 
very valuable assets in the depth of knowledge gained during his studies and research into 
Ecumenical  Theology.  I  have  no  doubt  that  as  expressed  by  the  former  Church  of  South 
India  (CSI)  Bishop  in  Jaffna,  the  Rt  Rev  Dr  S  Jebanesan at  the  fortieth  anniversary 
celebrations  of  Fr.  Justin's  ordination, the  Bishop‐elect  would  strive  to  work  towards 
greater understanding and respect among the different Christian denominations. Rt. Rev 
Dr  Jebanesan highlighted  another  great  attribute  of  Bishop‐elect  Gnanapragasam:  his 
concern  for  the  poor.  Bishop‐elect had  researched  and  submitted  a  document:  'Concern 
for the poor as seen in the life of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the 
world Council of Churches'. This, Bishop Jebanesan said, "affords a striking illustration of 
his ecumenical vision" and no doubt in my opinion is also recognition of his concern for 
the poor. His deep concern for those in dire need was evident in the way he cared for the 
waves  of  people  forced  into  exile  during  the  ethnic  conflict:  spearheading  the  efforts  of 
the  diocese.  Bishop  Jebanesan  has  described  him  as  a  "humble  man  who  carries  his 
scholarship and learning with dignity and grace". 
I  hardly  need  to  make  my  readers  aware  of  the  fact  that  he  has  the  great  advantage  in 
having been the Vicar General (non‐executive bishop, as some would have it) of the Jaffna 
Diocese  for  the  past  eight  years.  The  experience  he  has  gained  and  the  insight  into  the 
problems faced by the diocese, the recognition of the strengths of the priests and people 
and their short and long term needs would be an enormous asset. 
His qualifications, pastoral and educational experience are second to none. His scholarly 
background  too  would  provide  a  strong  basis  for  work  in  the  diocese.   The  depth  of 
knowledge  due  to  his  researches  in  the  field  of  education  for  his  Ph  D  thesis,  the 
experience  he  has  gathered  as  the  Rector  of  two  leading  schools  in  Jaffna  and  as  a 
member of the Jaffna University Council will stand him in very good stead. At a time when 
the Catholic schools are said to be falling behind and with the need to produce good and 

able Catholic citizens, Fr Justin's experience would be invaluable and ensure that proper 
attention is paid to education in the Jaffna Diocese. 
Fr  Justin  has  been  the  Vicar  General  during  the  most  turbulent  period  in  Northern  Sri 
Lanka. He recognised and understood the views of both warring factions; using his good 
offices he helped to defuse many difficult and potentially dangerous situations. Permit me 
to dismiss the views expressed by some regarding the cordial relationship which he had 
with  the  higher  echelons  of  the  army.  Few  have  appreciated  the  benefits  that  derived 
from  this  relationship  in  being  a  mediator  in  the  finding  and  the  release  of  many  'lost' 
individuals.  He had and still maintains the trust of the government and the armed forces. 
This would truly be a valuable asset for the Jaffna diocese now in a more peaceful period.  
It  is  also  worth  recording  the  excellent  relationship  he  always  had  with  the  Hindus, 
including  the  respect  he  was  held  in  by  the  Principals  of  the  Hindu  colleges  and  the 
manner he was able to canvass their help in improving education in Jaffna. 
My  association  with  Bishop‐elect  Gnananpragasam  gives  me  the  insight  to  say  that  his 
episcopacy  will  be  seen  as  a  period  when  the  foundations  of  the  Church  in  the  Jaffna 
Diocese  would  be  strengthened;  to  build  an  edifice  fortified  by  prayer  to  enable  the 
faithful gain a greater understanding of being a true Christian with love for one another. 
He would no doubt be seen as a builder of bridges. He will continue with ardour to build 
bridges  between  the  followers  of  Buddhism,  Hinduism  and  those  of  the  Islamic  faith:  a 
wider 'ecumenism' in his eyes. There is every expectation by those who know Bishop‐elect 
Gnanapragasam  that  he  would  help  bring  greater  understanding  especially  between  the 
Sinhalese and Tamils promoting trust between the peoples to enable a lasting peace to be 
established  in  the  country.  I  have  no  doubt  that  he  would  be  greatly  instrumental  in 
leading his flock and the country along the path of peace and reconciliation, conscious of 
the  need  for  a  just  peace  while  seeking  the  truth.  "Christ  rose  from  the  dead  and  will 
never die again. Death no longer has any power over him."  We hope that the country too 
can  now  move  forward  and  the  forces  of  destruction  will  not  prevail  again.  We  can  be 
confident  that  Bishop  Gnanapragasam  will  guide  his  people  to  greater  spirituality  and 
unfettered freedom that they rightly deserve.  
For this to be achieved, bridges between the two communities need be strengthened. It is 
our hope that Bishop Gnanapragasam would be an inspiration in the Bishops Conference. 
The Bishops Conference should display a much greater awareness of their role in restoring 
peace and harmony in the country. They could hardly be proud of their past record in this 
matter. The laity look forward to the hierarchy for guidance and above all to provide the 
example. I cannot think of many who could be better at building these bridges to achieve 
greater unity and harmony which the country yearns for. Perhaps his legacy at the end of 
his episcopacy to the church and people of Sri Lanka would be: The Bishop who built the 
bridges; who spanned the chasms. 
Vatican  has  undoubtedly  made  the  right  choice.  Having  seen  the  various  phases  in  the 
development  of  Bishop‐elect  I  cannot  fail  to  see  that  his  predecessors  aware  of  his 
potential gave him responsibilities over the years which he has fulfilled admirably.  I am 
certain  that  Bishop  Savundaranayagam  must  be  delighted  that  he  leaves  the  diocese  in 
safe  hands,  and  dare  I  say  in  the  hands  of  someone  whom  he  nurtured  to  be  his 
successor.  

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, 
whose confidence is in him. 
They will be like a tree planted by the water 
that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:7‐8 

Dr. Arulraj Joseph - UK