JOY IN COMMEMORATING A DEATH ANNIVERSARY – by Algi Wijewickrema
Author: Algi Wijewickrema
On 10th November every year, many residents of Alukalwita, a small village in rural Buttala, come together to commemorate the death of a Catholic Priest who served them selflessly and was brutally killed in 1987. The Priest is Rev. Fr. Michael Rodrigo OMI who lived and worked with them helping to uplift them so they could stand on their own two feet.
Unfortunately this year, when the 33rd death anniversary occurs, the COVID 19 pandemic might ensure that they would not be able to visit “Subasethgedera”, Fr. Mike’s House of Good Wishes. It is not only the villagers but visitors who usually come in numbers for the commemoration are also unlikely to attend. Although priests, friends and relations from Colombo or the surrounding parish churches are unlikely to make their annual pilgrimage to Buttala, I am sure the Alukalavita residents will remember their beloved Michael ‘Suwami’ even if it is in the privacy of their homes.
Though there were many, even within the Sri Lankan ecclesiastical hierarchy, who disliked or even condemned his efforts, perhaps they realise now that he was far ahead of his times and will have to accept that he was guided by the teachings emanating from the Vatican Council II and embarked on this mission with the blessings of the then (the first) Bishop of the Badulla Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Leo Nanayakkara.
Even after 33 years he is still revered because he chartered a different path for Catholics, particularly for the clergy. While remaining a Catholic Priest, he never sought to impose his faith on others but encouraged the poor whom he encountered in Buttala to live as better Buddhists, as he saw all people as children of God, particularly the poor and the down trodden.
Possessing two doctorates, he had lucrative offers from several world renowned universities to be in their staff but shunning such offers he preferred to live the Gospel in rural Buttala sans even the basic facilities. One of his doctoral thesis being “The Moral Passover from Selfishness to Selflessness in Christianity and other Religions in Sri Lanka” he could help these oppressed farmers, unlike others who sought conversions. Some who did not know his work or intentions at the beginning and therefore opposed his very presence there, not only supported him later but became active collaborators. For the villagers he was their help when they were helpless, he was power when they were powerless and much more.
It is these children of God from rural Buttala though being Buddhists, who still lament his elimination from their midst by political forces of the time. They who don’t know Saints as we do, hold in their minds, their beloved Michael ‘Suwami’ a Saint who helped them when no one dared to take their side.
At a webinar held yesterday (9th November) in lieu of the usual commemoration ceremony in Buttala, the OMI Provincial, Fr. Roshan Silva gave us the joyful news of the Church in Sri Lanka having commenced the process that would lead to the canonization of Fr. Michael and as many had hoped for in these last 33 years, expressed the hope that soon we would have a son of the soil as Saint Michael Rodrigo.
Knowing that he must already be in heaven, my prayer is that his life may be an inspiration to us who profess to be Christians, to be the salt that savours the earth, as Christ wanted and Fr. Mike showed how.
May God bless us all
(Pics. 1 Early days as a Priest and 2 in latter days (below)