Spread of evangelical groups causes alarm in Sri Lanka

Spread of evangelical groups causes alarm in Sri Lanka

Cardinal Ranjith calls for the government to regulate extremist groups after a spate of high-profile conversions

Updated: February 15, 2021 07:15 AM GMT
Spread of evangelical groups causes alarm in Sri Lanka
Veteran singer Victor Ratnayake claimed he regained his lost voice with the blessings of God via a religious sect. (Photo: YouTube)

Anna Mary, 32, and her assistant display religious magazines in public places four days a week. They dress in white and display the magazines in a small cart in front of Maradana railway station and other public places in Colombo.

Some passers-by ask what Mary and her assistant are doing. They reply that they are serving God whenever they can. Scenes like this have become common, especially in major cities in Sri Lanka.

“It is a common scene that hundreds of people pray together in such prayer centers from morning until evening,” said Mary. “Special bus services are also available in Colombo, Negombo, Wennappuwa and Chilaw, especially for Sunday services.”

Mary and her family were Catholics but joined an evangelical church and are devoted to its ministry. They talk about God and offer a free magazine and invite interested people to attend a prayer center.

Mary insists that they do not forcibly convert people, adding that her mission is to go from house to house to introduce God to those who do not know about him.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has called on the government to regulate all members of extremist groups posing as pastors and to check their sources of income.

He said the Catholic Church, led by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, had nothing to do with these pastors and their activities.

Buddhists account for over 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, while the Christian minority accounts for only 7.4 percent.

Cardinal Ranjith issued a special statement on Feb. 11 explaining the Church’s position on conversion and said a group of so-called pastors were carrying out extremist activities targeting veteran artists, athletes and businessmen in the country.

In a video circulating on social media, Nelu Adhikari, a popular singer, said she gave up Buddhism and joined an evangelical group, claiming her faith had cured her of tiredness.

In another video circulating on social media, veteran singer Victor Ratnayake claimed he regained his lost voice with the blessings of God via a religious sect. Ratnayake’s wife can also be seen participating in the prayer.

Senior Buddhist monk Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thera accused evangelical pastor Nalaka Fonseka of forcible conversion and used profane language in his assault on the pastor in January 2020.

“The Church has a clear administrative structure. But there is no system in the country to regulate these pastors, there is no discipline, no transparency. This directly affects the religious organizations in the country and this would affect religious harmony,” Cardinal Ranjith said.

“I declare to my Buddhist brothers and sisters that the Roman Catholic Church has no affiliation with such extremist religious organizations.”

Mary said they have registered their church and have never converted anyone by force. “We have not given gifts to Buddhists, Hindus and Christians to convert them. People should have the freedom to choose their religion,” she said.

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