This portrait of Sri Lankan churches was from a visit to the island during the summer of 2011.
St. Joseph’s Church was magnificently lit inside. The pews were a bit crowded, providing tight and uncomfortable seating. Despite the lack of leg room, the altar was pristine and exquisite. There was an element of stoicism in the decorum of the church: the use of wood suggested that Joseph was both stern in rearing Christ and a shield of earthly morality, a testament of a man who resided with Christ even after Joseph’s time on earth and given the limitations of his paternity. The extravagant presence of marble alludes to the ostentation of the heavenly plane where Joseph resides thanks to the saving grace of Christ, Joseph’s responsibility who in turn united the family above.
The statues were small and sparse, in color, and the altar was oddly enough a flat and rectangular in geometry—but so flat that it suggested it served as a bed for the dead. This is probably just my foolishness for are not all altars a bed unto which one rises at the priest’s hands, up-to Grace. The exterior was an exact parallel to churches in the west with ninety degree angles heading up to the roof with a nice brown tiling angling sixty degrees. The size of the church wasn’t broad as some of the churches I saw including St. Mary’s—St. Joseph’s was lean and tight, only enough to contain two pews, but that was enough for the elegance that took the challenge of poverty and ran with it.
The Day of the Tsunami that rocked Asia an odd number of years ago, Christmas was taking place in St. Mary’s at Matara. Lit by a golden neon majesty the frame of the church looked like it could withstand anything, lest heaven sent. But isn’t heaven in the hearts of the residents of this planetary body, because the effect the disaster, wreaked upon Sri Lanka’s southern coast and interior, drove the force of the Catholic religion to deposit aid, not only for the church’s restructuring, but also towards the ability for Catholicism worldwide to aid the struggle of the afflicted. And as custodian of Catholic activism on Sri Lanka’s shore, St. Mary’s initiated an outreach—not to convert—but to debilitate the suffering of the beach community
Father Hewawasam, the head of the prestigious church, shed light on the significances that surrounded the worship of Mother Mary at Matara. “Mary is respected by the Catholic Church because she is possessed by the grace of God. This is what the angel Gabriel said, ‘Hail full of Grace’”
The church is seated right at the coast, in front of the beach where many a private schooler flock for the eminence of spirit and the heart of the island, which is the sea shore: “Our Lady is called by the Catholics – the start of the Ocean; that is why she is facing the ocean. The fishing flock always pray to our Lady for protection”, says Father Hewawasam.
In many of the churches visited, on this holiday, it was incredible to see that the fishing industry, no matter what practicing religion, looked to the church which has it stations, situated at the coastal edge. Before the English arrived, and even during the time of their control over the Sri Lanka, the influence of Catholicism was far and wide-reaching. Prior to the British, and the subsequent independence of Sri Lanka, the Portuguese Catholics and the Dutch held the island priceless. The country is a nation of many religions but the institution of Catholicism meshed well with the iconography of the other religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. A tacit agreement early on was fleshed out amongst the major religions of the island, and their subsequent pantheons to be a kin to the list of patron saints in the Catholic communities. As a result, deification of a saint like Mother Mary was inevitable, especially, as Sri Lankan fisherman found kinship with the North African fisherman of Israel.
The Church of Christ the Healer, at Weligama, was and should be seen in this series as a hallmark of modest inclination, in humble architecture, towards the miracles of Christ, which are wild and wondrous in spirit. Monkeys traversed the trees surrounding the modest framework of the slender building. Father Bernard Fernando woke up from a nap and gave the tour group just what they were there for: a proper tour and instruction in the history and legacy of the church. “Jesus is also a fighter of compassion,” he said. The painting in the interior were done by a Buddhist man and not a single touch of patronizing apathy and indifference came across in the artwork, which captured the lush colors of not only the middle-eastern clothing but also of the features of olive skin fleshed out in the Lord and his compatriots.
When asked if other religions come to take part in the miraculous history of Christ the Healer Church, Father Fernando firmly and with great confidence replied, “Yes they come”, “Buddhist people also marvel at the miracles performed by Christ”. As a reminder of the unification of religions in this island, Father Fernando informed the party that a Buddhist monk also gives sermons here in addition to him. Father Fernando is a great believer in the healing power of the body, our temple, since he as a side note to his station “teaches courses on martial arts”, which he asserts is purely for self defense and a strengthening of internal spirit and resolve.