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Sri Lankan soul: sowing seeds of reconciliation
Another in our series of blogs from the Faith Coaition sees Dishani Jayaweera and Professor Jayanta Seneviratne – founders of the Center for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation in Colombo – discuss the role of spirituality in reconciliation and their acclaimed work with religious clergy and youth.
For centuries people in Sri Lanka have been co-existing with a commendable sense of unity. With the progress of time, a lack of understanding or mistrust or friction between communities grew, to become complete polarization among communities to the extent that one was no longer able to see, hear or feel the needs and pain of the other.
Part of our motivation for founding the Center for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation (CPBR), was this prevailing national context at the turn of the century where different communities were drifting away from one another at a pace not found in Sri Lanka’s recorded history. As much as our yearning for justice and fairness for each and every community in the context of the state, it was also our deep desire to bring together all the communities that were drifting away and to make each community value the blessing of our diversity.
What motivated the two of us to found CPBR is something that is connected to our soul. That is, our soul’s connection with justice and fairness. Or in other words, our yearning to uphold at all times the essence of these two supreme concepts.
At the inaugural phase of CPBR from 2002 to 2007 we experimented and experienced working with many different groups and layers of society. At the end of the period of experimentation, we made the difficult decision of deciding as to with which groups CPBR would focus its work. We believed that the most meaningful impacts of our work would be by working with the institutionalized religious community and youth whose aspirations for a better world order was constrained by circumstances.
In all of our religious teachings, the ideas of justice, fairness and peace are inalienable. Similarly, those who are in the religious establishment have the privilege of interacting and influencing all the social strata. The religious and communal polarization that was observed in the larger society was found to exist among those in the religious establishment as well.
Our awareness of this reality made us realize the need to first build deep relationships among Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist clergy, before attempting to bring together these communities as a whole. Our role was to facilitate a deeper connection between the present day religious establishments with the original religious teachings, and also to facilitate a sincere inquiry into the gulf between religious practice and principles.
Our role in relation to the youth that we work with is, to facilitate opportunities and spaces to dream, interpret and create a common, unified future. Our youth are not immune to being polarized along religious and other differences, and we recognize our role as supporting youth to unburden themselves of the errors of past generations and collaborate to create a common future.
In our journey to connect people and build relationships, we continue to trek the length and breadth of Sri Lanka to facilitate the self-identified needs of our religious, youth and community groups that are dotted across seven districts and eleven locations and serving more than thirty thousand people who have now learnt to see the world differently.
The CPBR recently completed its tenth year. It is a wonderful feeling to observe some of the seeds of reconciliation we sowed in the Sri Lankan soil taking root and growing strong. CPBR is a small organization; and it is with a great sense of pride we are able to say that we have earned the trust and affection of the Christian, Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala communities we have worked with during the past decade.
On Peace Day 21st of September we plan to make signs and banners which read “Who will you make peace with?” and have them displayed at places where people gather most. We will also have a book available where anyone can come and write down how they feel / their answers for this question. We expect the representation of religious leaders (whom we are associated with) of all four religions to be present at these locations.
We also plan to give handouts with a brief explanation of this event in all 3 languages (Sinhala/ Tamil/ English) and plan to have a small celebration at our centres based in Anuradhapura, Galle, Baticaloa, Hatton, Kalmunai and Beliatta. We plan to exhibit the creations we receive at the centres on this day and invite the children who send in their creations to celebrate with us.