A shep­herd of the op­pressed, the poor and the peo­ple on the run

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - APPRECIATION -

Bishop Rt. Rev. D. J. Am­bal­a­va­nar, the sec­ond Bishop of the Jaf fna Dio­cese of the Church of South In­dia ( Amer­i­can Cey­lon Mis­sion), whose twen­ti­eth death an­niver­sary falls on Oc­to­ber 10, rose to great heights of spir­i­tu­al­ity and in­tel­lec­tual stature to be­come a hum­ble ser­vant of God and a man for oth­ers.

Bishop Am­bal­a­va­nar came across to me as a sim­ple, friendly bishop who was a friend of the op­pressed, the poor and the peo­ple on the run. He re­jected seats of hon­our and pres­tige to give strength to the poor, by his very pres­ence in their midst. When there were reg­u­lar eth­nic con­flicts and mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions caus­ing much pain and dis­tress to the peo­ple, he raised his voice loud and clear on be­half of the op­pressed and showed no fear of any con­se­quences. He was able to take up the plight of the Tamil peo­ple to in­ter­na­tional fo­rums. He be­came the voice of the voice­less and gave hope to a peo­ple who were suf­fer­ing un­told hard­ships due to the eth­nic con­flict.

Bishop Am­bal­a­va­nar was a great Bib­li­cal scholar and in recog­ni­tion of his schol­ar­ship he was awarded an hon­orary doc­tor­ate by the Uni­ver­sity of Ser­am­pore in In­dia. As a sound in­tel­lec­tual he was well in­formed of the lat­est devel­op­ments in Chris­tian the­ol­ogy. He was happy to know that I was the only priest who vis­ited the Ashram li­brary in Maruthana­madam where there were a lot of the­ol­ogy and ec­u­meni­cal books. As I had re­turned from Bri­tain af­ter my stud­ies, he used to ask me to se­lect the books from the cat­a­logues of the lat­est the­o­log­i­cal books.

Bishop Am­bal­a­va­nar sought to bear wit­ness to the Bi­ble through his com­mit­ments to the peo­ple in es­tab­lish­ing mis­sions in re­mote ar­eas, to train peo­ple for so­cial de­vel­op­ment and also to care for the or­phans, the poor and the un­der­priv­i­leged. There was so much to learn from his car­ing ways.

Bishop Am­bal­a­va­nar was sen­si­tive to the needs of the whole pop­u­la­tion in tur­moil, up­rooted from their tra­di­tional lands and homes, and who needed to be looked af­ter both phys­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally. Mem­bers of his church (CSI) had fled for their lives to the South of Ele­phant Pass and he needed to look af­ter them.

Bishop Am­bal­a­va­nar came across as a bishop who dared to dream of his mis­sion en­trusted to him and ex­panded the mis­sion merely for the sake of serv­ing his wounded peo­ple. In such ac­tions he be­came a healer in the foot­steps of his Mas­ter and Lord, Je­sus Christ.

In ex­pand­ing the fron­tiers of the Church of South In­dia he had to find the labour­ers for the vine­yard. He changed the qual­i­fi­ca­tions re­quired for the new re­cruits and ac­cepted any­one from any so­cial back­ground, so long as that per­son was con­vinced of his/her call, and was will­ing to un­dergo train­ing for this pur­pose. This was, in­deed, a bold step he took which many found dif­fi­cult to ac­cept. He was a shep­herd who went seek­ing for the lost sheep and was keen to serve them as a true, hum­ble ser­vant of God.

Be­cause of his vi­sion to ex­pand the mis­sion and the need to train them and give them a sound the­o­log­i­cal knowl­edge, he started the Th e o l o g i c a l Sem­i­nary at Maruthana­madam. This was to avoid the prob­lems of ob­tain­ing visas for stud­ies in In­dia and also to over­come the strin­gent re­quire­ments for ad­mis­sion to the­o­log­i­cal stud­ies.

I would say that the early years of Bishop Am­bal­a­va­nar were a pe­riod of dream­ing and pre­par­ing and clear­ing the ground for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of those dreams. The sec­ond half of his min­istry was on ma­te­ri­al­is­ing those al­most im­pos­si­ble dreams, and he, with the grace of God, did achieve them.

It was his strong faith in God and the be­lief that he had been en­trusted with a mis­sion that he had to carry out at any cost. To achieve th­ese dreams, he took cal­cu­lated prac­ti­cal mea­sures to make them pos­si­ble. He had a strat­egy for ev­ery dream he pur­sued and his re­peated re­minders were: ‘Fail­ure to plan is to plan fail­ure’.

The suc­cess of his dreams was his de­ter­mi­na­tion to fol­low a dream and once he was con­vinced of a par­tic­u­lar course of ac­tion he would carry it through to its end. His style of achiev­ing his dreams re­minded me of what Fa­ther Ti­mothy Long, a fa­mous Rec­tor of St. Pa­trick’s Col­lege, Jaffna, who would keep say­ing to us at school as­sem­blies: ‘The dogs may bark, but the car­a­van goes on’. In Bishop Am­bal­a­va­nar’s case, his car­a­van full of dreams did move on all be­cause of his deep faith, in­sight and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

I would con­clude with some lines from the song that was pop­u­lar in the early 60s. It re­fects the life and dreams of Bishop Am­bal­a­va­nar.

‘ To dream the im­pos­si­ble dream, To fight the un­fight­able foe, To bear with un­bear­able sor­row, To run where the brave dare not go, To right the un­rightable wrong, To strive when your arms are too weary, To reach the un­reach­able star, To strive for the right with­out ques­tion or pause, To be will­ing to march into hell for a heav­enly cause’..

Bishop Am­bal­a­va­nar will al­ways re­main in our me­mory as a dreamer who be­lieved there was hope for a bet­ter to­mor­row. He was God’s great­est gift to us dur­ing the pe­riod of great trial for the peo­ple of Jaffna. May he en­joy the com­pany of the an­gels in heaven! Bishop Justin B. Gnanapra­gasam Bishop of Jaffna

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka

© PressReader. All rights reserved.