Sri Lanka is an enigma. It offers us a wonderful success story of multi-faith harmony at work – Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians – a deeply spiritual people living together, praying together and even sharing sacred spaces and pilgrimage rituals. Temples, mosques and churches can often be seen side-by-side in Colombo.
And yet, the other story of Sri Lanka is one of brutal violence and ethnic warfare over 26 years. The civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils ended in 2009 and the urgent need for healing and reconciliation began in earnest.
Uniting Through Faiths (UTF) is a major project supported by the Commission for Mission of the Uniting Church. UTF is organising its annual Sri Lankan Multi-Faith Harmony Day on 6 March this year at the Mulgrave Community Hall. All are invited and we hope about 400 Sri Lankans and friends of Sri Lanka will attend this celebration of the faiths and ethnic diversity which is at the heart of Sri Lankan culture.
The UCA has a dozen ministers and various congregations with proud Sri Lankan heritage. More than 44,000 Sri Lankans live in Victoria.
There is still much unfinished work that Sri Lankans need to do together to heal the deep wounds of their long war. This is work the CFM and its networks can help with. The current peace in Sri Lanka is fragile and requires new frameworks and brave honest relationships.
There has not yet been a bridge of reconciliation constructed between the people who suffered on all sides. Trust is easily shattered and very slow to heal. This Harmony Day offers us a chance to say ‘sorry’ to each other and to all who struggle with their pain and grief.
We will begin Harmony Day by celebrating our diversity as Sri Lankans. We will stand in awe of how our various faiths successfully held us and nurtured us through this time of hatred and division. This never became a religious war in Sri Lanka.
A Buddhist a Muslim and a Christian from a youth movement for Reconciliation and Hope called Sri Lanka Unites (SLU) will join us here in Melbourne. Its stated aim is:
To unite the youth of all ethnic and religious groups across Sri Lanka in a movement that oromotes reconciliation, creating a peaceful and prosperous nation for future generations
Larry Marshall is a project manager with Uniting Through Faiths CFM. He is a Sri Lankan Burgher who migrated to Australia as a teenager with his family.