Local News Update: The High Commission of Sri Lanka in the United Kingdom held its annual Christmas Celebrations at the High Commission premises on 16 December 2019 with multi-faith leaders, representation from the Church of England and the British Government, and the British Sri Lankan community of all faiths. The Head of South Asia Department and India Policy Co-ordinator of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Fergus Auld attended the event as the Chief Guest.
The event commenced with Christian religious observances led by the Chaplain of the Sri Lankan Catholic Sinhala Speaking Community Reverend Father Sudham Perera who bestowed blessings on the people gathered. Father Perera, whose church in Sri Lanka – St. Sebastian Church Katuwapitiya – was affected by the Easter Sunday tragedy, emphasized in his sermon the need for compassion, forbearance and peaceful coexistence among people. The Chaplain of the Sri Lankan Catholic Tamil Speaking Community Reverend Father Elmo Arulnesan highlighted the significance of Christmas and its universal message of love and sharing through a reading from the Bible.
Actg. High Commissioner Samantha Pathirana welcomed all religious leaders, dignitaries, the British Sri Lankan community including children present at this year’s celebrations. He highlighted the inclusive manner in which Christmas is celebrated in Sri Lanka, which is reflective of the country’s rich multi-cultural heritage as well as peace and coexistence nurtured by all peoples. The Actg. High Commissioner also highlighted the significance of the visit to Sri Lanka by The Archbishop of Canterbury The Right Hon. The Most Reverend Justin Welby in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday tragedy, during which he visited affected churches and met some of the victims.
Addressing the gathering, Chief Guest Fergus Auld, while wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, highlighted the universal message of love and peace of Christmas and extended the UK Government’s deep appreciation to the Government and the people of Sri Lanka for the support extended to British victims of the Easter Sunday bombings. He reiterated the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury who visited Sri Lanka, that the duty of religious leaders is to resist extremism and promote peace and dialogue.
Reverend Canon Mark Poulson, Canon for Presence and Engagement and Interfaith Relations, St. Paul’s Cathedral London, London Diocese of the Church of England who represented the Bishop of London at the event recalled in his address his memorable visit to Sri Lanka 20 years ago where he remarked the religious freedom existing in the country. Affirming the rights of all people to worship free from intimidation, threats or violence, Canon Paulson highlighted the significance of the message of Jesus Christ ‘Blessed are the Peace Makers’.
Member of the House of Lords and longstanding friend of Sri Lanka, The Lord Mohamed Sheikh, in his Christmas Message remarked on the importance of interfaith dialogue and the promotion of harmony among people of all faiths.
The gathering joined the Choir in singing popular Christmas Carols in Sinhala, Tamil and English. The children of the Chaplaincies and staff of the High Commission took part in the Carol Service. The event also included a nativity play by the children of the Sinhala Chaplaincy, and dance performances by children from the Bethany Church, Southall and the Tamil Chaplaincy. The arrival of Santa Claus laden with gifts for children was a highlight of the evening. The Vote of Thanks was delivered by the Minister (Commercial) of the High Commission, Dr. Lakmini Mendis.
The ceremony included the observance of two minutes’ silence to commemorate the victims of the Easter Sunday tragedy in Sri Lanka. The celebration was also attended by religious leaders of the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim faiths led by The Most Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala, Chief Priest of the London Buddhist Vihara, and a large segment of the British Sri Lankan community. The guests were also treated to a Christmas dinner.