Message modified by board administrator 14/6/2012, 11:50 am
ACN News: Thursday, 14th June 2012 – SRI LANKA
“Opening a door on the infinite” – expressing the Faith through art in Sri Lanka
By Reinhard Backes
“People need symbols, and especially in spiritual matters”, emphasises Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka. And he adds: “This is true for all religions, not only Christianity” In every age, he explains, architects, artists and composers have endeavoured to express faith in artistic terms. In Sri Lanka this is true above all of the Buddhists and Hindus, Cardinal Ranjith said, in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The temples are highly and colourfully decorated inside and out with paintings and sculptures. In the Christian churches in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Ranjith feels that this aspect has been given relatively little consideration until now. “Buddhist friends have already expressed their astonishment at this”, the Archbishop of Colombo observed.
He is convinced that art can make a very significant contribution to the proclamation of the Faith, and so he is resolved to promote it on a lasting basis. His plan is to establish a school of art in the capital Colombo that aims above all to equip young men and women with knowledge and skill in painting and sculpture, and also in architecture. This new institution, which he hopes to obtain state recognition, is still in its planning phase, and it is not yet clearly established when it may open its doors. Currently, however, there are two priests from the Archdiocese of Colombo studying in Italy for a future role as lecturers in the subject.
Both are from Sri Lanka, and both are already well known in the country well beyond the Church sphere for their artistic achievements. Father Priyantha Silva is known as an outstanding painter. Already as an 18-year-old, he designed postage stamps for the national Post Office of Sri Lanka depicting Christian Christmas themes. And he has worked on a number of chapels within the Archdiocese in Colombo. Now he is studying art in Rome, at the request of Cardinal Ranjith. No less highly regarded is Father Samantha Perera, who is known above all for his sculptures and who is currently studying art in Florence, where he also ministers in a Catholic parish.
(Father Priyantha Silva)
Pope Benedict XVI has more than once emphasised the importance of art for the Church. Among other things he pointed out during an audience in August 2011 that “Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite. Indeed it resembles a door open onto the infinite, onto a beauty and a truth that go beyond the daily routine.”
Cardinal Ranjith says something similar: to the effect that works of art can actually instruct people in the Faith. Even children can be taught important ideas through this means. The archbishop's idea is that the planned school of art in the Sri Lankan capital should above all promote traditional Sri Lankan artistic forms and concepts, since for many people the approach from within their own cultural context is particularly appealing.
(A section of Fr. Priyantha Silva’s painting, taken from the chapel in the Archbishops house in Colombo)
Under its Constitution there is officially freedom of religion in Sri Lanka. However, Buddhism, to which nearly 3/4 of the population belongs, is accorded a special status, and it is seen as the duty of the State to promote it. The numbers of Hindus, Christians and Muslims are fewer, ranging somewhere between 6 and 8%. The total number of Sri Lankan Catholics, divided between the Archdiocese of Colombo and a further 10 dioceses, comes to somewhere around 1.4 million.
ACN has been supporting pastoral projects in many of the dioceses of the country for decades now. These include among other things another art project, involving the installation of 40 bronze plaques in the Cathedral of Colombo, documenting the history of Christianity in Sri Lanka.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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