Kandy (Agenzia Fides) - "In the face of the difficulties that people are experiencing and the challenges that our country is facing, the strength that comes from above, the only one that gives true hope, sustains us and gives us courage. In these moments, thanks to faith and wisdom, we turn to the cross of Christ, we look to him. Jesus said: If anyone wants to come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me. With him we can leave the desert of poverty, of fear, of injustice, because we know that this path leads to joy, to the light of the resurrection. A word of consolation that comes from the Gospel is today for so many people who are scattered, depressed, disoriented and exhausted ", of great importance, it heals the heart, because Jesus is a healer". Speaking to Fides, the Bishop of Kandy, Valence Mendis, describes the difficulties and hopes that accompany the Catholic community of Sri Lanka in this historic phase, while The country is being shaken by a political and economic crisis from which it will have difficulty recovering. This crisis, said the Bishop, has had a serious socio-economic impact on the population over the last year, significantly increasing the number of poor and destitute people. "We are poor in resources, in material means, families are struggling to survive, many only eat once a day. But I see people who are rich in faith, who pray to the Lord, who do not despair, who come to church and who "find the support of a community of brothers who share what little they have in mutual aid," emphasizes the bishop. "I must say that, by the grace of God, I see a community of faith that is always zealous, participation in the services and in the life of the Church is always very high," continued Bishop Mendis, "In some communities there are over 80 % of the baptized regularly attend Sunday services and receive the sacraments, in other areas the percentage drops a little but, as we also told the Pope during the recent Ad Limina visit, the national average is 50-60%. "The holy people of God know, believe, love and trust in Jesus, the Good Shepherd." Looking at the dynamics of the community and the interaction between priests and laity, "one can say with joy that priests, parish priests and consecrated persons are close to the people. I see the fulfillment of what Pope Francis has told us so often that 'shepherds have the smell of sheep' and I believe that this is one of the reasons why believers feel like active members of the body that is the Church: they see priests who are with body and soul, who put their heart, their mind and their strength at the service of the community entrusted to them. The pastors listen, show mercy, help. They are very close to the people, even and especially in the phase of acute suffering the needs of families: this is greatly appreciated and strengthens communities," emphasizes Bishop Mendis. In this context, said the Bishop, "I would like to note that ten years after its publication, the apostolic exhortation 'Evangelii Gaudium', a document that was fully implemented in pastoral life, was important. We have studied it in depth, and after It has been incorporated into the everyday pastoral care of the communities following the Pope's visit to our country in 2015. An approach of closeness, brotherhood, mercy and care for others characterizes our pastoral work and has found its way into the practice of church life ". In a country where, out of 22 million inhabitants, the majority of whom are Buddhists, Catholics make up around 7% of the population, there is no shortage of problems, including on a cultural and spiritual level "We are not exempt from the phenomenon of secularism that is taking up more and more space in society, among young people and adults," notes Bishop Mendis. "We observe the tendency to move away from God and the transcendent dimension in favor of materialism and consumption in the background. This happens in communities of all faiths and can also be felt here, in our 12 Catholic dioceses." For this reason, said the bishop, the Church in Sri Lanka has promoted the formation of small Christian communities, the "basic ecclesial communities", because "spiritual and material sharing is better experienced in the small group; In addition, these communities are useful for bringing together those who have fallen away from the faith or for including those who do not know Christ. The emphasis is on the shared responsibility of all members of the community - not just one Priest or a religious - and especially in the largest parishes with more than 5,000 Catholic families, this model of grassroots organization works thanks to the pastoral and missionary commitment of lay people and catechists. In this context, Bishop Mendis emphasizes the special value of the lay ministry of catechists: "They are very important for us. There are 25,000 catechists nationwide, they are a crucial help, their contribution is a wealth, the Church in Sri Lanka has understood this and continues to hold training seminars for them, especially in order to involve young people in this service, which is an expression of shared responsibility in the church community".
The presence of the catechists was particularly important in the last two years of social and political crisis: "We found ourselves in the situation of a state that failed due to poor governance. The country only survived thanks to external aid such as that from the International Monetary Fund. The crisis has severely affected people's lives. The cost of living is very high, it has doubled in a short time, and millions of families are affected by poverty. The Church accompanies them in this phase in which they are experiencing so much suffering, accompanies families through priests, religious and, above all, catechists and is highly appreciated. Also because she not only supports or helps Catholics, but is also involved in society, often through Caritas, to protect the human dignity of everyone. We are were wounded by the Easter 2019 attack and have continued to pursue the demand for justice and truth for everyone in all committees in the interest of the common good. What is needed now is a revival on all levels. And Christians are there, ready to engage with the inheritance of the Gospel, which is an asset and a gift to the whole nation and to all humanity". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 18/11/2023)