“Here today we are making a difference by building bridges of harmony across different faiths and generations. We are learning to share stories of hope, healing and growing stronger as a group determined to paint a new canvas that brings peace and happiness to us all. “ – Shyama Fuad (USMAA)
Sri Lankan Harmony Day has now become an annual event on the inter-faith calendar. This year we, as hosts through a Uniting Church fellowship called Sri Lanka Invites, the event had invaluable support from the ‘United Sri Lankan Muslim Association’ (USMAA).
It was standing room only as more than 450 Sri Lankans and friends from Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu faiths gathered in a celebration of peace. Harmony Day patron Professor David De Kretser and his wife Jan were joined by Rev Jeffrey Abayasekera and his wife Annathaie who flew in from Sydney to support this day of seeking peace and reconciliation.
The ConChord choir entertained and challenged us to sing the Sri Lankan national anthem in both Sinhalese and Tamil – to raise our voices in harmony and sing together about being proud Sri Lankans. This was followed by the stirring Bruce Woodley anthem ‘We are Australian’. There were tears in some eyes as we acknowledged the joys of belonging to our Lankan homeland as well as this generous land we call home.
This year three young reconciliation activists from Sri Lanka performed confronting theatre dramas to remind us all of our responsibility to work for harmony across the divides of ethnicity, religion, language and politics. The actors came from a youth organisation appropriately called ‘Sri Lanka Unites’: we a Muslim (Ramzi), a Sinhala Buddhist (Thevuni) and a Christian Tamil (Manesh) work with youth from schools building hope and fostering forgiveness and reconciliation.
Later Thevuni gave a stirring speech about the courage we need to love rather than fear the ‘other’.
As a Sinhalese-Buddhist representing the religious and ethnic majority of Sri Lanka, I believe it is the majority’s responsibility to stand up for minority rights – just so that one day we can get rid of these concepts of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’, where we are able to think of ourselves all as Sri Lankans and have faith in our common humanity.
After the speeches and singing were over we shared a feast of Muslim inspired Sri Lankan food – the famous Biriyani. The evening finished with a session of song and dance called Baila – from our Portuguese colonial heritage – and many new friendships were made as the crowd stayed on to build the bridges of harmony and plan a brighter future for Sri Lanka.
Larry Marshall is a project manager with the synods Uniting Through Faiths unit. He is a Sri Lankan Burgher who migrated to Australia as a teenager with his family.
Rev Dev Anandarajan made a particularly poignant contribution to Harmony Day 2016 by penning a speech inspired by Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream…’. The whole audience spoke this together with him and Rev Rajitha Perera.
A Dream for Sri Lanka
I have a dream…….
That one day Sri Lankans of all ethnicities and religions will hold hands and say we are different, but we are all proudly Sri Lankans.
That one day we will value each other for our rich cultural heritage, our religions, our languages and the contribution we make together for the welfare of the nation.
That one day our children will learn not to categorize fellow Sri Lankans into ethnic or religious groups but value them all as children of mother Lanka.
That one day we will say sorry for the pain we inflicted on each other.
That one day we will rise up and say, “We will not let ourselves be divided one against the other” and courageously guard each other’s rights as fellow citizens..
That in our distinctiveness we will find our strength, in what is common we will find our identity, in our religions we will seek paths of truth, justice and peace, in our ideologies we will seek the welfare of all, and together we will make Sri Lanka a land of peace and prosperity.
Rev Dev Anandarajan