Cardinal Ranjith reacts to Pope Francis' 100,000 Euro gift for Sri Lanka's families
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka is grateful to Pope Francis for, taking the initiative to send 100,000 Euro to help families of victims and survivors of the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.
In an interview with Vatican News, as the country's ongoing economic, political and financial crises reach new heights, the Archbishop of Colombo, who served in the Vatican for many years, reflects on the Holy Father's generosity which is destined to reach some 400 families at the targeted Catholic and Evangelical Churches where suicide bombers claimed 269 lives.
The Cardinal also discusses whether the security concerns for the local church have been addressed, and whether this remains a constant cause for concern, and offers Vatican News his view of what is required for Sri Lanka to escape from its political, economic, and social crises.
Your Eminence, could you tell us about the grant of €100,000 that Pope Francis has given to families of victims and survivors of the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka?
When I came to Rome and met His Holiness in February this year, he asked me about the welfare of these people, how they are faring and expressed his concern for their needs. So, on his own initiative, he asked me whether he could help us financially, and I said, okay, we are very grateful to him for that. He asked me how much. I said: “Whatever you give, will be welcome”. Then he told me that he had a donation from somebody amounting to €100,000 and that he would give me €50,000. He asked me for the account number of our diocesan funds which I gave to him and when I went back in April and checked the account, I found that he had credited €100,000 to our account. He had given the full amount. I found that he was extremely helpful to our people and we are very grateful to him for that, for the concern and for the constant attention that he has been paying to the needs of these people.
And how will this support be distributed among the families of the victims? I imagine it is a very much appreciated support, especially given the economic crisis the nation is facing right now.
Due to the current economic crisis, these people too, are in great need of help. So, we have decided we are going to give that money now and to distribute it in an equitable fashion, according to the needs and the various challenges that these families are facing, and have worked out a kind of a scheme. We allocated the entire sum to 400 families from the St Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo City, and St Anthony's Church in Kochchikade. We also gave a certain amount to families of the Evangelical Church in Batticaloa, and sent it to the local Caritas office so it can be distributed to those people. Moreover, we allocated some more substantial amounts for those who are bedridden and who need constant medical care, and have to pay for nursing and other things. So, considering this, we gave them a bigger amount. We distributed the grants during a ceremony last week-end, in which we invited the Apostolic Nuncio.
And is the local Church still in a process of recovery and coming to terms with these attacks?
There are two sides to the question. One is, of course, that there are various needs: economic, physical, medical and psychological needs. So, we continue to take care these needs as much as we can. After the attacks, there was an outpouring of charity from all over the world. So we created a special fund, and some of that money is still available, and we will continue to look after these people even in the future.
On the other hand, we have the question of justice, that of knowing the truth behind these attacks. It is a much more serious question for them, because they want to know who and why this happened to them. 269 people died in the blasts and then three policemen were killed in another blast as they went to arrest some people involved, which brings the total to 272. So we have answer to these questions regarding the entire attack: who was really behind it, and why it was carried out. Until we get clear answers on this, our people will not be satisfied.
My next question had been about to what extent the security concerns for the local church been addressed and are there still worries about the situation there? Based on what you've just said, it seems that there is still much work to be done.
Yes, the problem with the country, of course, is much bigger, because of wrong policies and wrong economic management. The country has gone down a precipice. We are in the midst of a financial crisis, a serious financial crisis, where many people are unemployed or underemployed. As a result, they have no income for their families. This has affected the general population. Besides that, there are also other questions: industries have all collapsed, we have huge debts to be paid to other countries for useless projects that had been promoted by the previous governments, more for personal enrichment than for the people’s development.
These projects have caused a huge debt problem in the country and we don't know how to get out of it. So, the national income and the production capacity of the country has fallen so that we cannot pay our way through the basic needs of the people, like electricity, coal to run the power generators, and diesel and petrol needed by farmers, fishermen and other people to run their businesses. All of that has collapsed and the income of families has been badly affected. Because of this, we have a serious financial crisis and all of us are going to have serious difficulties.
Referring to that economic and political crisis. In your opinion, Your Eminence, what is needed to escape or to get out of this?
The country has also suffered a serious erosion of democracy, which has been caused by three factors. The first one is the gradual deterioration of the rule of law and the interference of political leaders in the judiciary, which has made justice a non-issue for our people. So, we want that to be rectified. Secondly, the corruption levels of our political system are very high, and only a few people -- or rather a few families -- have been earning endlessly, while many families are in dire poverty. So, this corruption must stop, and an effective means of controlling it must set up. Thirdly, human rights violations are on the rise, and the more people protest, the more oppressive the governments have become. So, there are a lot of unanswered issues.
All of this requires a transformation in our society. We want the international community to pressurize our government to ensure that these errors are corrected and we ask that aid be given to us in a way that corruption doesn’t occur anymore. Aid should be given to our country, but with clear-cut conditions so as to preserve democracy, the rule of law, honesty and safeguard human rights.
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