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Marist Bulletin - Number 61

 

Brother Michael de Waas talks about Marist life in his homeland of Sri Lanka
04.04.2003

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ONE OF THE ATTRACTIONS IS OUR SIMPLICITY AND OUR APPROACH TO REACHING OUT TO YOUNG PEOPLE

Bro. Lluís Serra

Brother Michael De Waas is Provincial for Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1959, Michael has earned a Teachers’ Certificate and Bachelors Degree from the University of Peradeniya in his home country, and a Masters Degree in Psychology from Marist College in Poughkeepsie USA. He has served as a teacher, prefect of boarders, headmaster of the Province’s pre-novitiate school, assistant principal, acting principal, and provincial councilor.

You know, when I listen to people singing in Sinhalese I get goose bumps because your music is so captivating and it draws the soul inward. How would you characterize some of the outstanding qualities of the Sri Lankan people?
Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country; about 70% of the population (approximately 19 million) is Buddhist. Some of the virtues this philosophy of life brings to people include compassion, kindness, tolerance and respect for one another. Serenity of mind is one of the virtues many Buddhists try to achieve through meditation. Hence people are expected to be very reverent to each other, kind and understanding of each other, and especially to practice tolerance with a lot of self-discipline. This background must be having a very great impact in our music giving it a flavor of tranquility.
Sri Lankans are known for being very hospitable people. They are people who are expected to be tolerant and show a lot of respect to all people irrespective of their creed and caste.

Your country has endured armed conflict between the government and guerrilla separatists. What is the situation at the present time?
At present the country is breathing a sigh of relief sans terror and fear. With the signing of a Memorandum between the guerrillas and the government, the two parties have committed themselves to resolve their conflicts through dialogue with the help of a third party, and in this case the Norwegian government. People are happy they can move about anywhere in the country with no harassment and fear. From time to time there are sporadic incidents by both parties in violation of the peace agreement. Everyone believes the conflict will come to an end soon with a “give and take” policy in place by both parties.

Clearly Buddhism is the dominant religion in Sri Lanka, and even the Hindu religion has more followers than Christians and Muslims, both of whom represent about a 10% share of the population. This being the case, how do you express and practice your Christian beliefs?
There has been a good understanding between different religions. There is a lot of respect for each religion with the belief that each religion enables people to be good citizens. There has been no problem in practicing Christian beliefs in the country. Inter-religious dialogue is quite good. There has been good understanding and mutual support for practicing one’s own religion. Christianity is highly esteemed thanks to missionary education in Sri Lanka over the years and what it has contributed to many people of various religions.

How did our Marist work get started in Sri Lanka?
In 1911, at the invitation of the Archbishop, a group of Brothers from France arrived in the country, which at that time was known as Ceylon. Initially they started their work in the eastern part of the country, and then went on to the western province of the country to run missionary schools.

There are Marist schools in Ja-ela, Kalutara, Mallawagedara, Negombo, and
Nugegoda. What programs and activities do you offer, and what kinds of students are drawn to your schools?

In most of these establishments we have both formal and non-formal educational programs. In Negombo, Kalutara and Nugegoda we have three Government assisted private schools. Electro in Negombo is a technical school for school dropouts. Haldanduwana is a place closer to Negombo where a non-formal education program is being provided. Ja-Ela, and Mellawagedara are places where we run poultry farms and a piggery that employ young men and women in the area who are not very well-off. In our schools, the students drawn to us come from middle-class and lower-middle-class backgrounds. The young men and women who work on the farms are from very poor backgrounds.

How are the Brothers involved in ministering to young people who are troubled and at risk?
We do not have specific programs for this particular population. Whenever they are identified in our establishments they are directed to facilities where help is available.

Do you find that young people are attracted to our Marist way of life? In what sense do they see the Brothers as a point of reference in their lives?
Of late we have found that there has been quite a good response to our invitation to join us. One of the attractions is our simplicity and our approach to reaching out to young people. I would attribute this to Marist characteristics.

What social realities in the country call out for a response from your Marist mind and heart?
We need to reach out more and more to young people. It’s a matter of going all out to them now rather than expecting them to come to us. There are a lot of young people who would like to reach us provided we take the initiative to talk to them and create the environment to listen to their stories. I see the Brothers taking many individual initiatives to respond to some urgent needs of the youth in Sri Lanka.

What does the future hold for our Marist presence in Sri Lanka?
It’s a very hopeful one. A lot of people throughout the country have been demanding our services and assistance.

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