25 years ago: Assassination of Fr. Michael Rodrigo, OMI

Originally published on www.omiworld.org.

The 25th anniversary of the assassination of Fr. Michael RODRIGO was celebrated on 10 November 2012 at Buttala, Sri Lanka. Bishop Norbert ANDRADI of Anuradhapura presided at the concelebrated Eucharist. Among the concelebrants were the General Councilor for Asia-Oceania, Fr. Clement WAIDYASEKARA and the Provincial of the Colombo Oblate Province, Fr. Rohan SILVA.

In his homily, the bishop stated: “Humanly speaking, we are witnessing to a very sad occasion; but from a spiritual point of view it is a blessed occasion. We are participating in the same holy Eucharist with which Fr. Mike’s life culminated. Rather than conforming to the social standards of the day, he stood for the rights of the oppressed poor, and raised their human lives to a divine level, fearless of threats and accusations. He was constantly searching for the kind of action with which he could fully involve himself in the lives of the poor, rather than resorting to escapism, letting his blood be poured into the same chalice in which the Eucharistic blood of Jesus had been a few minutes ago. (He was shot soon after the communion rite). We have to go beyond a mere commemoration of Fr. Mike. As Oblates we have to question ourselves as to the next step. Celebrating and rejoicing alone won’t do. How should we as disciples of Jesus Christ live profoundly Fr. Mike’s discipleship? He discovered those things that were opposed to God’s plan. He had to let go of many things in order to achieve his goal. He knew that the Oblate cross should not be a mere ornament. His convictions ought to challenge us. He was not just a social worker. He had a profound spirituality centered on the mystery of the Eucharist. The same challenge that Jesus posed to the rich young man is placed also before us. If we are to follow Jesus one ought to deny oneself, take up one’s cross and go after Him.”

The Eucharistic celebration was followed by a get-together, during which a special Sri Lankan guest speaker, Mr. Mahinda Namal, who has been propagating Christian liberation spirituality, addressed the gathering saying, “Today we live in a society that awaits a hundred more Fr. Mikes. In reality, his was a political assassination. From a faith perspective, it was martyrdom. There were two aspects to his ministry; namely, indigenization and kenosis. During the past 60 years indigenization was a mere fashion or ornamentation. For Fr. Mike indigenization was not simply adaptation of certain aspects of local art, decorations, vestments, and liturgy; instead, it was a question of incarnating the Christian teaching in the lives of the people. True indigenization involves taking the liberational content of the Gospel into the hearts of the poor masses. From the 1970’s southern Sri Lankan youth took to violence not because they liked it, but because they thought that violence was the only language which the rulers understood. Referring to the violence of 1983 July, Fr. Mike stated that the Tamils suffered much more than the Sinhalese. We have only one race; namely, humanity. Racist violence is a shame on humanity. Fr. Mike’s indigenization was free from racism and religious fanaticism. In my opinion, the importance of Fr. Mike lies not so much in his expertise of Buddhism, but in his dedication to the cause of the poor. He represented both Christianity and Buddhism. He said that Sri Lankan Buddhism is a national heritage which must be protected. The second aspect of the person of Fr. Mike is his kenosis. Coming from the high class society in Colombo, he sacrificed many things for the sake of the noble cause of the poor masses for whom he had made a preferential option. Just as Jesus we too must make an exodus towards self-emptying. By self-emptying he did not mean embracing material poverty. It was a giving up of every desire and attachment that gave birth to poverty in order to eradicate the same. He was no armchair critic, but someone who came down to the grass root level, and totally identified himself with the poor. He chose the region of Lower Uva region for his ministry in order to pay compensation to the damages done by Colonial Christianity. While learning the basics of agriculture and herbal medicine from the villagers, he tried to do away with their ignorance by widening their horizons in imparting to them a wide range of knowledge as well as English language as a communication medium. Where is the Sri Lankan society 25 years after his death?”

Buttala has developed externally. But oppression and religious alienation are still there. Today the domination of the multinationals thrives in the region. There is no fixed price for the agricultural products of the villages. People use poisonous fertilizers in order to survive (something which Fr. Mike abhorred). Child-abuse, premature sex and the use of narcotics among children are rampant. Religious fundamentalism and fanaticism are galore. Family life is badly affected due to values proposed through media. In place of true indigenization, so called shallow patriotism is on the increase. Instead of self-emptying, people are filling themselves with greed. The collective conscience to build up the society is replaced by an individualized, consumerist spirituality. In this sense, the work which Fr. Mike began is not continued today on the same wave-length. So we need to make the same exodus from our ghettos which he made in terms of indigenization and self-emptying.


The next important item of the day was the presentation of the first issue of Samvada (‘Dialogue’), a Sri Lankan Oblate periodical dedicated to interreligious dialogue. Fr. Claude PERERA, the executive editor, presented the first copy of it to Bishop Andradi. The students of Michael Rodrigo English Academy staged a drama depicting the gruesome social realities which Fr. Mike was facing while he lived. Lunch was served to all present. (Fr. Claude Perera, OMI)

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