Christianity came to Sri Lanka only after arrival of Portuguese in 1505
Posted on December 27th, 2012
Reply to E. Weerapperumaâ€™s â€œChristmas celebrated before the arrival of the Portugueseâ€ appearing on Daily News 25 Dec 2012.
No one questions that there is no Christmas without Christ for all Christians just as we all know that Catholicism is a subset of Christianity after its split in 1054AD (Roman Catholic Church in Rome and Orthodox Church in Constantinople â€“ Eastern and Western Churches) and split again to create the Church of England. We also know that Eastern Christianity began in Palestine (in the Middle East â€“ including Syria and Egypt) and swept west into the Roman Empire to develop a firm base in Europe. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Persian Empire stretched from Syria to what is now Pakistan and deep into central Asia and with them spread Nestorian Christianity. By the 8th century in China and South India members of the Nestorian Christian church used a distinctive symbol in which the cross is joined to the lotus, symbol of Buddhist enlightenment. Nestorians were excommunicated by the Catholic Church therefore there is little use referring to Nestorian Christianity to highlight presence of Christianity in parts of Asia.
Mr. Weerapperuma is also attempting to project the existence of Christianity in Sri Lanka and projecting that the Mahavansa has failed to give Christianity its due place. This is to possibly counter the allegations that Christianity is an imported imperialistic tool. It is also an attempt for present day Christians to disassociate from the atrocities of the Portuguese era by propagating the myth of St. Thomas. The myth of St. Thomas and the destruction of the Mylapore Shiva temple by the Portuguese was thoroughly exposed by Ishwar Sharan in his landmark book, The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, first published in 1991. Then in 1953 by Father H. Heras, SJ, the then Director of the Historical Research Institute, St. Xavierâ€™s College, Bombay, when he wrote to T.K. Joseph: â€œI am fully convinced that the tomb of St. Thomas has never been in Mylapore. In November 2006 Pope Benedict XVI had categorically stated that St. Thomas never visited South India. This statement is important for many reasons and refutes a host of false premises being promoted as heresay.
Which then raises the question of whether Catholic Indian missionaries are fabricating fables to mislead the Indian masses for the purpose of mass conversion (harvesting of souls) and certainly questions the film on St. Thomas being produced by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chennai. If the arrival of St. Thomas to India is rejected by the head of the Roman Church and the fact that it was the Nestorians who arrived to parts of Asia from the 6thcentury though both Christians and Catholics reject Nestorian doctrine that Jesus exists as two persons â€“ man Jesus and divine Son of God rather than as a unified person there is little reason that modern day Christians/Catholics would desire to associate with Nestorian presence simply to prove a point. What can be simply said is that there is no evidence of Christianity in India or Ceylon prior to Nestorian Christianity.
Mr. Weerapperuma goes on to mention about Migara Senpati and infers to the blessings Christians received by Sinhalese kings. Migara Senpathi was King Datusenaâ€™s (410 to 432 A.D) army commander though there is no evidence to prove that Christianity existed for Migara to be referred to as a Christian and to accept this Mr. Weerapperuma may like for forward evidence.
As for Mr. Weerapperumaâ€™s inference that Christians had the blessings of the Sinhalese kings the only evidence or the only King who betrayed the principles of leadership taken by all kings (to protect the nation, the Sinhalese and the Buddhists) was Don Juan Dharmapala. There is no King of Sri Lanka or any Sinhalese who would ever want to be associated with Don Juan Dharmapala for that great betrayal in handing over the kingdom to the Portuguese, changing his name, changing his religion, converting his wife, changing her name to Dona Catherina and watching the Portuguese subject his people to such atrocities does not deserve any mention by any of us.
The global village concept ironically appears to apply only to nations that are non-Catholic and non-Islamic because neither the Vatican nor Muslim nations would ever consent to having anything that is not Catholic nor Islamic in their self-declared â€œholy landsâ€ â€“ how can they then claim â€œmultiâ€ tags when their actions are only to promote, protect and propagate their faiths only with little respect for the religious beliefs of others? Would Mr. Weerapperuma care to respond to this point.
There are many Christian/ Catholic churches throughout Sri Lanka some of which are built on top or adjacent to that of destroyed sites of ancient Buddhist temples (the time has come for the Dept of Archaeology to carry out a comprehensive archeological survey of places of worship of the Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant faiths particularly in the Western Province and put to rest the false denials of the Catholic and Christian Churches, which were both accomplices and beneficiaries of the colonial plunder, seizure and transfer of the titles of lands originally belonging to Buddhist and Hindu Temples, to the Catholic and Christian Churches) and a plethora of bogus faith healers and Jesuits all spreading their faiths throughout Sri Lanka unabated.
The wide freedom that both Christianity and Catholics enjoy in Sri Lanka rebuts effectively the false accusation that they are not given due recognition. It is for the Church which has still to respond to allegations that they have used the terrorist situation in Sri Lanka to carry out mass conversions and its links to the LTTE terrorist movement through various Christian/Catholic organizations with Church leaders openly canvassing for these terrorists. Some of these Church leaders have openly encouraged suicide terrorism as well as encouraged Tamil children to become child killers. These links will soon be unearthed if and when the GOSL opens an inquiry into the links NGOs/INGOs have had to LTTE throughout the decades of conflict in Sri Lanka and raises eyebrows as to the extent of influence being exerted to stop the Government from actually opening such an investigation.
It is in this context that anyone would be bewildered by a statement that Christians live as â€œaliensâ€ in Sri Lanka. In fact in spite of Sri Lanka having Buddhism enshrined in its Constitution, with over 64% of the Sinhalese being Buddhist â€“ the mass media in Sri Lanka is effectively controlled by non-Buddhists, they will hardly entertain even right of replies when Buddhist culture, philosophy etc has been attacked through their newspapers, journalists mainly non â€“ Buddhist, working for these media agencies are handsomely rewarded to humiliate and denigrate Buddhism at every turn, very few newspapers even entertain Buddhist writings and thoughts except allocate a page on a routine basis every month for the full moon poya supplement, it is often non-Buddhists who end up speaking on behalf of the Buddhists â€“ such is the fate that has befallen Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Sadly, the oft branded pro-Government newspaper the Daily News has been carrying such anti-Buddhist sentiments primarily on account of its former editor being Catholic but the appearance of this present article again questions on what grounds these theories are sufficient to be made public and whilst doing so counter arguments by Buddhists writing to challenge these accusations are never ever entertained?
It is within these discrepancies that the calls to have a new national media commission established along the lines or similar to the Press Commission headed by former Justice K D de Silva that was established in 1963 by the Government of Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike, is once again suggested. The K.D. de Silva Press Commission in its Report released in 1964 held among other things, that local newspapers were guilty of acting in a manner hostile towards the national interests of the country and Buddhism, the religion of the majority. That status quo exposed in 1964 by the Press Commission remains the same today not helped in the least because there are hardly any Buddhist leaders to speak on behalf of the Buddhists though there are enough of politicians to speak for all minority religions and ethnic groups. Moreover, when issues related to such misuse surface on account of all communications channels owned by non-Buddhists who end up securing things officially leaving Buddhists to follow the motto of â€œgrin and bearâ€ since there is little backing from their own leaders except to make bogus and false promises to win their votes at election time.
As for the local Buddhist associations who are ever ready to issue statements on behalf of other faiths and entertain others in local Buddhist Temples on days of religious significance to others, which is a meritorious gesture, would do well to issue similar sentiments regarding their own faith and it raises questions why such solidarity was not shown when groups totaling over 25,000 Bangladeshis attacked ancient Buddhist sites in Bangladesh recently and completely destroyed historical Buddhist Temples and valuable and irreplaceable historical data or why there is any reluctance to openly back the Buddhists of Burma or any other Buddhist country facing threats to their very national existence for that matter.
Ironically, in Sri Lanka it appears that it is the Buddhists who are â€œaliensâ€ in their own country because it is always their space that is being compromised using a global dictum called â€œmulticulturalismâ€ â€“ none of the other minorities ever consents to even compromise and it is always the Buddhists that end up extending the hand to always be bitten.
As for the Mahawansa it is only a historical source and is not the source of the history of the Sinhala race. Almost everything mentioned in the Mahawansa can be corroborated with inscriptions both in Sri Lanka, in India as well as other contemporary writings and historical maps. Therefore, the Mahavansa can hardly be faulted for not including heresay or fables.
Therefore, whilst there is no argument as to the importance of Christmas it is suggested that Mr. Weerapperuma responds first by forwarding archeological evidence to prove because as Thomas Paine (1737-1808) said â€œIt has often been said that anything may be proved from the Bible; but before anything can be admitted as proved by the Bible, the Bible itself must be proved to be true; for if the Bible be not true, or the truth of it doubtful, it ceases to have authority and cannot be admitted as proof of anythingâ€
Christmas celebrated before the arrival of the Portuguese
We are celebrating Christmas today. At every Christmas we are reminded of His birth and also of His Mission for which He took the human form. Christ completed His Mission winning back to us the lost relationship with the Divine.
Christmas is also a reminder of the glorious Second Coming, the Eschatological coming of Jesus Christ at the End of Time. Jesus Christ intended to be with us until the End of Time and at the Last Supper established the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He comes to us Catholics as our food daily at the Holy Mass the banquet in the form of a host to be with us every moment of our lives. Emmanuel â€¦: God is with us at every turn of our lives.
Mary, the young lass of Judea was the choice of the Divine from all eternity and her genuine and humble submission to the Will of God â€œI am the Hand maid of the Lord â€œpaved the way for the Salvation Course to play its historical role among His Creation, as willed by the Triune God and fulfilled the Divine Promise made to our first parent Adam and Eve before they were thrown out of the paradise.
If the mission for which Christ came turned a failure, then there would not be celebration of Christmas for this long two centuries and none will care to talk about Christianity. But the fact is that Jesus Christ; the Anointed One came and by His Death and Resurrection He restored our lives. So there is Life, Death and the culmination point of our faith Resurrection and hence there is profound meaning in celebrating Christmas.
We are therefore not celebrating the commercialized Christmas but Christmas with Christ as the focal point or the cynosure. Without Christ no Christmas and that has to be imprinted in every heart and mind of men and women of good will who look for Christ in every action of those profess Christ and try their best to live up to His teaching that revolutionized every strata of social life.
Having said that my intention through this essay is to draw the attention of readers of good will to the fact that Catholics in this country are not an alien species as some try to portray but they are genuine sons and daughters of this Land of the Small Wonder; the Pearl of Indian Ocean and the Tear Drop of Asian Region, as Sri Lanka is referred to by the rest of the world.
Catholics and for that matter all groups, genuinely adhering to the teaching of Jesus Christ, The Way, The Truth and The Life and those who profess Christ as their Lord and Master, they are sons and daughters of this soil, their Motherland. They are not foreign and strangers, but are part and parcel of this land with every right enjoyed by everyone else, claiming to be of this soil.
Preaching the word of God and relating the Salvation story at every part of the globe is a Divine Command. And yet God did not force man, his creation to adore him by force and hence it is of paramount importance to underscore the fact that there is no proselytizing which means that there is no need to make an attempt to bring legislation to prevent conversions. Such naive attempts will only create mistrust and unwanted divisions among the people who live in peace, harmony and unity.
The Kings of this nation country respected the human rights about which we make a loud noise from the house-tops today.
They allowed the people to convert to any religion of their choice without outside force and that freedom was loud and clear. The Kings also supported every religion to grow and there were no any sort of hindrance to the growth and wellbeing, directly coming from the royal arm whoever lived abiding to the dictates of their conscience.
The Maha Wansa, the chronicle has failed to give Christianity of this land her rightful place. We claim to live in a global village, and carefully studying the pages of history of our neighbours we find that they have not failed to keep a record of what had happened in and around them. There is reference to this beautiful land in those historical notes.
Such Historical evidence gathered from excavations, continued research and scholarly work of the experts both here and overseas strengthen the fact that Christianity was known to the islanders and that Christians were living in pockets in several parts of the country long before the arrival of the Portuguese.
If one carefully and analytically read the Christian Encyclopedia would come to accept without any hesitation the presence of Christians here and that the origin of Christianity in Sri Lanka goes back to the times of the Apostles, the first century of human history after the Birth of Jesus Christ. That is why the existential historian refers to St Thomas Christians, Christians of St Francis Xavier and the like.
The history also records that even in the rank and file of Court officials of Sinhalese dynasty there were Christians and Migara Senevi is a classic example. Suffice it to say that Christianity was well rooted here and where ever Christians live in the island nation, Christmas was celebrated in its true sense.
The finding of Nestorian Cross in Anuradhapura and Cross St Thomas within portals of Greater Colombo, go back to five centuries before the arrival of the Portuguese. Historians with no bias and impartial, note the arrival of Portuguese at a particular time of history a blessing in disguise and Sri Lanka remains predominantly a country with Buddhist majority today thanks to their arrival, though sudden and unexpected.
Had Christianity received the blessings of the Sinhalese Kings in the sense that the entire members of Royalty embraced Christianity like in the countries of the West; much weight would have been in favour of spreading the story of Salvation, the Presence of God among His people to a greater degree.
But perusing the pages of history we realize although there were kings who favoured Christianity but purely on mundane purposes they refrained from embracing the religion but allowed the people to do what they genuinely felt right, and there was freedom to the citizens to embrace the religion of their choice. Thus there was no ruling against spreading of the Teaching of Christ, Light of the World. It is from those converted Catholics, who shun all perks and positions, suffered persecution and faced bravely martyrdom adhering genuinely the faith they embraced, remained true to it and there was no going back and thanks to them, Catholic faith is alive to this day, down many generations.
It is good for any one genuinely interested to see their faith grow, to adopt Asokan principles inscribed in the rocks. â€œHonour other religionsâ€ admonished the Buddhist Emperor Asoka in his rock Edict Xll and had said that â€œhonouring the other religions, one helps to the growth of his own religion.â€
Though some extreme elements try to corner the Christian living here as aliens, the Sinhalese who profess Catholic faith and those others belonging to various denominations or sects of the same faith could claim without any hesitation that Catholics and Christians are truly part and parcel of this land and they are true sons and daughters of Mother Sri Lanka though differ by religion and ethnicity.
Sri Lankaâ€™s modern history makes reference to the force-landing of Lorenco de Almeida in Galle harhour and from there moving on to Colombo harbor on November 15 of 1505 as the official date of introducing Christianity. But that positioning does not hold water any longer and that one could safely come to the conclusion that Christianity was taking roots firmly in the Sri Lanka soil long before the arrival of the foreign nationals beginning from the Portuguese. This preamble is set here to say that holding fast to the historical facts now being unearthed and the First Christmas Night goes back to the far beyond period of Portuguese arrival and their stay counting more than 150 years.
We read that there were Christians of St Thomas, Christians of St Francis Xavier and like, counting their faith-origin to the Saints who visited this land and preached the Good News responding to faithfully to the Command of Jesus Christ to go forth to the four corners of the world and preach the dhamma, the message of Salvation and that the Kingdom of God is already here inviting all men of good will to follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth and Life.
This Christmas takes us to roots of our faith-origin and invites us to ponder upon this fact and examine how we have grown with the tenets of our faith without losing our ethnic and cultural identity as Sri Lankans. The arrival of the Dutch and persecution faced by the Catholics under the hands of the Dutch and local, provincial kings did not dissuade but persuade to live in faith they newly found.
While the arrival of Portuguese was seen as the time Christianity got off the ground in an official manner the persecution escalated in the hands of the local / provincial kings and the Dutch strengthened the faith through the â€˜Blood of Martyrsâ€™.
The times of Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Sri Lanka Christianity faced persecution and also had the blessing and protection of the Kandyan Kings. It is after the arrival of Fr. Joseph Vaz, the first recorded Christmas Night celebrations take place in the Northern Province and the miraculous escape of Fr.Vaz.
It does not mean that Christian lived within the first five centuries did not celebrate Christmas, Easter or other feasts of Saints known to them.
Today Christmas means having a gala time shopping, eating and drinking. There is nothing wrong in feasting but what is wrong is to lose the sight of the true message of Christmas.
The Vatican Information Service quoting His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI said: â€œThe â€˜presenceâ€™ of God has the wonderful and awe-inspiring meaning. God Himself has crossed over from Heaven and inclined towards man; He has made a covenant with man, entering into the history of His people. He taking on human flesh and becoming one of us. His presence reminds us that God has not left this world, He is not absent and has not abandoned us to our own devices.â€ (VIS December 12.2012).
The commercialized Christmas has buried the true meaning of the Christmas, our ancestors celebrated since the arrival of Saints who blessed this land with their presence and celebrating Christmas true to its message. It is time for us to dive into the past as a community and unearth what is hidden and beneath to ascertain the truth that Sri Lanka celebrated Christmas long before the arrival of the foreign powers.
The historical sketches buried under the sand of times would be surfaced with new research and vouch to the fact the early Christian celebrated Christmas. Of course they did not commercialize the feasts but lived the spirit.
Courtesy: Daily News ( December 25, 2012)