As the Oblate formation conference came to its end, we were given a chance to participate in the life of two significant Oblate communities here in Sri Lanka. The first place was the Oblate Scholasticate in Kandy. As we left the hot and steamy Capital City of Colombo we started climbing up the mountains in order to reach the ancient royal city of Maha Nuwara, known today as Kandy. The city located in the central plateau of Sri Lanka attracts not only Oblates of Mary Immaculate who come here to study philosophy and theology and to be formed for Catholic Priesthood, not only the seminarians of all 12 dioceses of Sri Lanka who attend the national seminary here but it draws huge crowds of tourists coming to explore such a historical place (and probably to escape the heat of the lowlands). However it is mainly known for the Temple of the Tooth of Buddha which according to the tradition has been treasured here.
Although the Temple is impressive it couldn’t overshadow the beauty and spirit of the Oblate Scholasticate. Located on one of the hills of Kandy the place nurtures Oblate-priestly vocations of the young men who not simply study here but create a family united around Jesus Christ. I am not surprised at their enthusiasm as they have got such a great example to follow in the Oblates who support and guide them here. One of them Fr Rayappu in his early years of priesthood was sent as a missionary to another country however the local government would only allow him to stay there as a student. As he already held a Masters of Theology he enrolled himself in the PhD program. I was amazed at his dedication to serve the people of God. In order to work as a missionary he was doing his PhD, he wasn’t simply studying but working as a missionary and on the top of that great ministry he was working on his doctorate. What a great example of a missionary. He didn’t give up because of the difficulties but found a way to stay in his mission destination and, out of love for the Lord Jesus, he was working on the university degree. He must have inspired the scholastics who apart from their full time studies, every weekend swap the roles and become teachers of the local poor children teaching them English, math, etc. I am grateful to God for giving us this opportunity to step into the spiritual atmosphere of this holy place.
I have got encouraged myself by the brothers who study here. In the sacristy where priests get vested for Mass they wrote message which reveals their humility but at the same deep faith.
As I mentioned Kandy is considered as a Buddhist shrine but for us Catholics the city of Kandy is the shrine of St Joseph Vaz who was canonized by Pope Francis a few weeks ago. Fr Joseph was a great Apostle of Sri Lanka who dressed like a beggar was walking highlands and lowlands of the country spreading the Gospel of Christ. He died in Kandy. No one knows the location of his grave, though some point out to a local mosque or a Hindu temple. As we were walking the ancient roads of Kandy marked by thousands of statues of Buddha I couldn’t help thinking that Fr Joseph, who spent most of his life like a beggar, didn’t want to attract attention to himself but he invites all Christians to search for Jesus even in the place which is so saturated with reminders of Buddhism. When he was walking these same roads he must have been such an insignificant person but he was brining here the only message that has the promise of eternal life attached to it: “Jesus Christ is the Lord of heaven and earth.”
Fr Daniel OMI
An Oblate Priest