You are on page 1of 4

Congratulations

WeannouncewithgreatjoywehaveanewBishop

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
Godsfieldsandpastorsabletorestoreunity,sownetsandovercomedivision".
We would all agree that Bishopelect Gnanapragasam, possesses in abundance the
attributesthattheHolyFatherwishestoseeinhisBishops.MaytheHolySpiritgranthim
thegracestofulfillallhisEpiscopalduties.
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
appreciatedduringhistimeintheparishes.Inrecognitionofhisabilitytounderstandthe
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
VicarGeneralandwouldundoubtedlybeofimmensevalueasBishopofthediocese.
Bishopsareappointedformanyattributesandabilities.BishopelectGnanapragasamhas
veryvaluableassetsinthedepthofknowledgegainedduringhisstudiesandresearchinto
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 Jebanesanat the fortieth anniversary
celebrations of Fr. Justin's ordination,the Bishopelect would strive to work towards
greaterunderstandingandrespectamongthedifferentChristiandenominations.Rt.Rev
Dr Jebanesanhighlighted another great attribute of Bishopelect Gnanapragasam: his
concern for the poor. Bishopelecthad researched and submitted a document: 'Concern
forthepoorasseeninthelifeoftheCommissiononWorldMissionandEvangelismofthe
worldCouncilofChurches'.This,BishopJebanesansaid,"affordsastrikingillustrationof
hisecumenicalvision"andnodoubtinmyopinionisalsorecognitionofhisconcernfor
thepoor.Hisdeepconcernforthoseindireneedwasevidentinthewayhecaredforthe
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
scholarshipandlearningwithdignityandgrace".
I hardly need to make my readers aware of the fact that he has the great advantage in
havingbeentheVicarGeneral(nonexecutivebishop,assomewouldhaveit)oftheJaffna
Diocese for the past eight years. The experience he has gained and the insight into the
problemsfacedbythediocese,therecognitionofthestrengthsofthepriestsandpeople
andtheirshortandlongtermneedswouldbeanenormousasset.
Hisqualifications,pastoralandeducationalexperiencearesecondtonone.Hisscholarly
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
memberoftheJaffnaUniversityCouncilwillstandhiminverygoodstead.Atatimewhen
theCatholicschoolsaresaidtobefallingbehindandwiththeneedtoproducegoodand

ableCatholiccitizens,FrJustin'sexperiencewouldbeinvaluableandensurethatproper
attentionispaidtoeducationintheJaffnaDiocese.
Fr Justin has been the Vicar General during the most turbulent period in Northern Sri
Lanka.Herecognisedandunderstoodtheviewsofbothwarringfactions;usinghisgood
officeshehelpedtodefusemanydifficultandpotentiallydangeroussituations.Permitme
todismisstheviewsexpressedbysomeregardingthecordialrelationshipwhichhehad
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.Hehadandstillmaintainsthetrustofthegovernmentandthearmedforces.
ThiswouldtrulybeavaluableassetfortheJaffnadiocesenowinamorepeacefulperiod.
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
mannerhewasabletocanvasstheirhelpinimprovingeducationinJaffna.
My association with Bishopelect 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
faithfulgainagreaterunderstandingofbeingatrueChristianwithloveforoneanother.
Hewouldnodoubtbeseenasabuilderofbridges.Hewillcontinuewithardourtobuild
bridges between the followers of Buddhism, Hinduism and those of the Islamic faith: a
wider'ecumenism'inhiseyes.ThereiseveryexpectationbythosewhoknowBishopelect
Gnanapragasam that he would help bring greater understanding especially between the
SinhaleseandTamilspromotingtrustbetweenthepeoplestoenablealastingpeacetobe
established in the country. I have no doubt that he would be greatly instrumental in
leadinghisflockandthecountryalongthepathofpeaceandreconciliation,consciousof
the need for a just peace while seeking the truth. "Christ rose from the dead and will
neverdieagain.Deathnolongerhasanypoweroverhim."Wehopethatthecountrytoo
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
unfetteredfreedomthattheyrightlydeserve.
Forthistobeachieved,bridgesbetweenthetwocommunitiesneedbestrengthened.Itis
ourhopethatBishopGnanapragasamwouldbeaninspirationintheBishopsConference.
TheBishopsConferenceshoulddisplayamuchgreaterawarenessoftheirroleinrestoring
peaceandharmonyinthecountry.Theycouldhardlybeproudoftheirpastrecordinthis
matter.Thelaitylookforwardtothehierarchyforguidanceandabovealltoprovidethe
example.Icannotthinkofmanywhocouldbebetteratbuildingthesebridgestoachieve
greaterunityandharmonywhichthecountryyearnsfor.Perhapshislegacyattheendof
hisepiscopacytothechurchandpeopleofSriLankawouldbe:TheBishopwhobuiltthe
bridges;whospannedthechasms.
Vatican has undoubtedly made the right choice. Having seen the various phases in the
development of Bishopelect I cannot fail to see that his predecessors aware of his
potentialgavehimresponsibilitiesovertheyearswhichhehasfulfilledadmirably.Iam
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.

ButblessedistheonewhotrustsintheLord,
whoseconfidenceisinhim.
Theywillbelikeatreeplantedbythewater
thatsendsoutitsrootsbythestream.
Itdoesnotfearwhenheatcomes;
itsleavesarealwaysgreen.
Ithasnoworriesinayearofdrought
andneverfailstobearfruit.
Jeremiah17:78

Dr. Arulraj Joseph - UK