The “resplendent island,” better I known as Sri Lanka and formerly as Ceylon, is situated off the south-eastern coast of India. Multi-ethnic and multi-religious, it has a population of 20 million and a land mass of 65,610 square kilometers. Ethnically, its people are Singhalese (69%), the majority of whom are Buddhists; Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, account for 15% of the population; the Moors (8%) are Muslims and steadily increasing; while Catholics, drawn from all ethnic groups, constitute 5%; and another 2% of the population are non-Catholic Christians.
Religion in Sri Lanka
The Church in Sri Lanka is relatively strong, with 12 bishops, over 400 priests, and 230 seminarians in the National Seminary. The opinion of the Bishops’ Conference on moral issues of national importance generally carries weight. By virtue of Sri Lanka’s religious history and heritage, Buddhist temples are found everywhere to the extent that, despite the various religious enclaves, it is not at all unusual to see a Buddhist temple directly opposite a Catholic Church or a Hindu temple.
Buddhism teaches a general respect for all life. Hence, as a way of life, it is well disposed to and holds a favourable view of contemporary life issues. However, its inability to articulate its belief in a manner that can invalidate the pragmatism of the Western death merchants is a serious handicap, and consequently there is no fervid teaching permeating down to the practical level of application. No strong, principled, organized, and visible opposition to abortion exists, and instead expediency governs the practical realm. In Buddhism, marriage has no religious significance and so divorce is easy and straight-forward. The Hindus, like the Buddhists, regard abortion as an evil but lack a central authority to influence and govern the practical sphere.
Despite the inherent Buddhist inclination to be pro-life, a strong, clear anti-life agenda is being pursued throughout the country. The tactics used are many, varied, subtle and heavily dependent on the general ignorance of the Sri Lankan population about the life issues, and of the consequences of not adhering to the natural law with sufficient strength. While the anti-life policies are generally proposed in vague language, presumably so as not to provoke controversy, they are nevertheless firmly implemented. Among the more reprehensible practices is the forced sterilization of women. Government policies seem to require doctors to perform Caesarean deliveries for the second pregnancy followed by an automatic tubal ligation, commonly without the mother’s knowledge or consent.
Men are also targeted for sterilization and are paid 500 rupees (US$5.00) to be vasectomized. Other tactics used are the door-to-door visits by public health officials who offer and supply women with a monthly dose of the contraceptive pill without, of course, telling them of the possible side effects. Extremely disturbing is the public vaccination programme directed specifically at girls to the exclusion of boys. This has provoked the worst suspicions regarding the purpose of the vaccines as the number of young married women having difficulty in conceiving is increasing. In fact, it is estimated that about 23% of the population has been sterilized.
Life in Sri Lanka
The life expectancy in Sri Lanka is about 72 years with steadily declining population growth. Malnutrition is probably the greatest single health threat, while alcohol and narcotic dependency with its erosion of human values is a major cause of concern. The destructive past-times, stress and an inability to cope frequently ends in suicide, giving Sri Lanka the highest suicide rate in southeast Asia. Four times as many men as women end their own lives, with young women and aging men being most at risk.
During my visit, I addressed some 200 seminarians on the threat to their nation from the policies of the anti-life agencies, and was much heartened by the warm response and interest shown. I also spoke in a number of parishes, with priests and with Archbishop Nicholas Fernando. In all cases they asked what could they do to halt the advance of the pro-death agenda already so deeply entrenched in their country.
I was also greatly encouraged on my last day in Sri Lanka by my meeting with members of Cultura Vitae, a small but very lively group of Sri Lankan Catholics who are aware of the life issues and actively engage the anti-life agencies at all levels. They recognize and try to counter the evil work of the high-profile Marie Stopes pre-born killing centres. With a vaguely defined but clearly implemented two-child policy in place, it is not at all surprising that girls are more likely to be killed than boys. In spite of grounding their case on the much-touted UN convention on the elimination of discrimination against women (CEDAW), all attempts to close down the abortuaries have failed, thus giving incontrovertible proof that a woman’s “right” to kill her pre-born baby supersedes a pre-born girl’s right to life.
Cultura Vitae is particularly fortunate in having the support of the Sri Lankan bishops which enables them, even though hard pressed on all sides, to confidently engage the anti-life juggernaut and so to provide some light and hope in the darkness of the valley of death. The principal need is for pro-life literature and other media that will help dismantle the anti-life machinery.
Future of the Catholic Church
Judging from the current number of seminarians, the very active laity, the dedicated clergy, and a pro-life hierarchy, the prognosis is good. The situation of the Church in Sri Lanka is very promising. The seminarians already show great interest in the life issues and it is hoped that with proper formation in this area, sufficient pro-life materials, and support and encouragement from established pro-life organizations, they will emerge as a very pro-life and pro-active clergy.
So dear friends, in the words of St. Paul, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers” (2 Cor. 1:11). Your spiritual and financial support of our work not only saves lives but also irrefragably contributes to the destruction of the kingdom of darkness and to the building up of the Body of Christ in a place far from you in miles but close to you in love.
In the words of the Apostle, “We write you nothing but what you can read and understand; I hope you will understand fully, as you have understood in part, that you can be proud of us as we can be of you, on the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor. 1:13) .