He didn’t belong only to the Buddhists but to all Sri Lankans…
For Christians, Old Testament history is full of those who chose to stand in the gap on behalf of their people and their nation – especially significantly during some of the darkest and the bleakest times. There were others ; Queen Esther was raised for ‘ a time such as this’ – (Esther 4 :14). But each of them was courageous, committed and chose to come forward at a time when others were too afraid, too timid or too indifferent to care.
When Sri Lanka’s time came to stand up and be counted, it fell upon a valiant Buddhist monk, Ven. Sobitha Thero, to do so. His calling was for a time such as this. Ven. Sobitha chose to stand in the gap, to make his voice heard on behalf of all Sri Lankans, against the powers of a dark and a vile dynasty of corruption and nepotism. He fired the first words and set about on getting civil society activated – and with it, awakened the nation into the possibility that there could be change – after all. He single handedly lit a flicker of hope in all of us that later became a light strong enough to cover the whole nation – whether we were Buddhists, Christians, Tamils, Moslems mattered not. What he inspired us to dream was that a concept of Good Governance was indeed a possibility for Sri Lanka. Good Governance may not have delivered on all fronts yet and there maybe issues as there always are – but what made the difference was that we defeated an impregnable monolith of a dictatorship because he dared to make it possible.
As social media posts reflect, all Sri Lankans – irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliations, chose to mourn this giant of a human being. He didn’t belong only to the Buddhists – he belonged to all Sri Lankans.
I still remember the day, under the Rajapakse regime, when they tried to gag Ven. Sobitha – this was fresh on the heels of his coming out strongly with the good governance movement. I remember seeing intimidating vehicles and troops outside the Naga Vihara Temple in our neighbourhood, one night. My husband Asoka and I wondered out loud – if the shove came to a push and the state chose to surround the temple and force the courageous monk inside to keep his mouth shut, would we the people, show our strength and challenge them?
That was not to be. Social media carried posts of the brave Buddhist priest being threatened by the then regime but nothing could – nothing would hold him back. He gave his all to bring the historic regime change in the country. He showed that it could be done. It was our Nelson Mandela moment – our Martin Luther King moment. It was his moment to step into the gap. He rose gallantly above all religious leaders of the country – and stood tall over the shifting of a nation’s perception that a perverted state could not be overcome. If anyone, history would credit him with that.
I remember the time when our shepherd, the Bishop of Colombo Dhilo Canagasabey called for the Christian community to take part in a Day of Lament to protest the impeachment of the Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake back in 2013. We made the effort but the baton had to be carried further than that – into the hearts and minds of people everywhere in Sri Lanka and it had to fall upon a leader of courage who were up for the challenge.
That leader stepped forward to be in a class of his own – in 2014. He sounded the clarion call. He stepped into the gap when the very words, good governance, sounded hollow enough to dampen the spirit of a nation subdued and crushed beyond repair.
True to his calling, Ven. Sobitha wasn’t happy with the results of the Good Governance in governing – he believed as many did, that more had to be done. And that is true. Yet, the significant step was that we had passed on from darkness to light, under his watch.
We owe him, as a nation, to ensure that the change he believed in was possible for Sri Lanka, will come. And that it will show our children the way forward.
May he attain Nibbana – I’m sure thousands of fellow Christians and those of other faiths join me in the sincerity of their hearts in wishing him farewell.