Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, a loving shepherd and a great leader
by Commodore Shemal Fernando, RSP, USP, MSc
@ The Island / 17DEC2005
His Excellency Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith who has brought immense honour and glory to Mother Lanka as an universal figure in the Roman Catholic Church, notched up 30 years in the ministry of the God Almighty this year, having ordained a priest on June 29, 1975. Archbishop Malcolm is presently serving in Jakarta as the Apostolic Nuncio to Indonesia and East Timor.
Born on November 15, 1947 and ordained a Priest at 27 by Pope Paul VI in Rome, appointed a Bishop at 43 by Pope John Paul II and elevated an Archbishop at 53 by Pope John Paul II, he is truly an unique Sri Lankan who has won love, respect and admiration of all walks of life and all strata of society as well as religious leaders all over the world throughout his ministry.
Archbishop Malcolm had his ecclesiastic studies at Pontifical Urban University as well as at Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome in Italy. It was during this sojourn that he mastered the languages of Italian, German, French, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Spanish. He is fluent in Sinhala, Tamil and English.
Later, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, he obtained a Baccalaureate in Theology, a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture and a Special Certificate in Biblical Studies. A scholar, teacher, preacher and an organizer par excellence, Archbishop Malcolm is essentially a simple priest at heart.
Following the commitment he has displayed as a Government Emissary to find lasting peace in Sri Lanka, it is the ardent hope of all Catholics that Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith will incarnate himself fully in the joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties of the men and women of Sri Lanka and open the door to Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world, the joy of every human heart and the fulfilment of all our hopes.
First Sri Lankan Papal Nuncio
Archbishop Malcolm enjoys the unique honour of becoming the first Sri Lankan to be appointed a Papal Nuncio by the Holy Father. Incidentally, Indonesia has the biggest Catholic population amongst the countries in Asia. During his tenure as Papal Nuncio spanning over 16 months he has enhanced mutual relations between the Vatican State and Indonesia to greater heights.
Also, he has won the admiration of the church hierarchy for the pivotal role he plays in assisting the establishment of cordial relations between the local Churches and their Governments whilst ensuring that the rights of the local Church are respected by these governments and by rendering yeoman assistance to the various Vatican departments in their links to the local Church.
Indonesia is a nation consisting of 17,000 islands over a land territory of roughly 2 million square kilometres, among which islands feature Borneo, Sumatra, Java and the Celebes group, Flores, Timor West, Papua West and Bali and the Catholic Church that spreads to 37 Dioceses and a population of roughly 7 million.
East Timor is the Eastern part of the Timor Island which achieved independence in 2002 from Indonesia. It boasts over 95% Catholics and had been under Portugal before Indonesia had taken it over in 1976. It has a Catholic population of about 600,000 under the jurisdiction of two Dioceses.
First Sri Lankan Adjunct Secretary
Archbishop Malcolm, prior to his Diplomatic assignment, became the first Sri Lankan Bishop to be appointed for an appointment in the Holy See. On October 1, 2001 he was appointed to the powerful post of Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of People along with the appointment of the President of the Pontifical Mission Societies by Pope John Paul II.
The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is the Holy Father’s ministry for the coordination of the missionary efforts of the Church and involves the follow up, overview and growth of the local Churches in mission countries, meaning mostly countries with a minority Catholic population.
There are over 1100 Archdioceses, Dioceses, Apostolic Vicarates and Apostolic Prefectures as well as Sui Juris Missions coordinated by this ministry. The ministry is entrusted to a Cardinal who functions as its Prefect with secretaries, the second of whom is the Adjunct Secretary. The Adjunct Secretary is at the same time the World President of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which are the instruments of the Pope for enhancing support through prayer and contributions for the mission of the Church.
These assist the mission dioceses in different ways. The Adjunct Secretary of the above mentioned Congregation is ex-officio, the International President of the Pontifical Mission Societies. He ensures that these societies develop and enhance support for the missions. He presides over the Annual General Assemblies of these societies which bring together their National Directors from all over the world.
First Bishop of Ratnapura
Archbishop Malcolm was also the first shepherd to be appointed by the Holy See to the newly carved out Diocese of Ratnapura. His appointment to Ratnapura was hailed as a welcome spark to kindle the fire of missionary zeal in the hearts of the clergy and laity in his diocese. It was evident when His Lordship was warmly welcomed to Ratnapura by an unprecedented crowd of well wishers of all religions.
The manner in which he guided the flock of Ratnapura, the famed city of gems mentioned in the story of Sinbad the Sailor perhaps paved him the way to the Holy See. The soil of Ratnapura district and its environs is the richest in the land of Sri Lanka. Buried underneath its soil is a variety of gems which few other countries could boast of. The richness of its gem – studded soil made Ratnapura the prize possessions of the Sinhalese Kings.
Early Life and Priesthood
Born as the only son of Don William and Mary Winifreeda and baptised in Polgahawela, he had his education at De La Salle College, Mutwal. He joined St. Aloysius’ Seminary at Borella in 1965 and after 3 months entered the National Seminary at Ampitiya. During the regency, Bro. Malcolm served SEDEC in the district of Ratnapura building homes for the needy. Thereafter, he joined the tutorial staff of St. Thomas’ College, Kotte.
On his return from Rome, he was appointed Assistant Parish Priest of Pamunugama in 1978 and the dynamism and enthusiasm of the young priest certainly had its impact on the villages of Kepungoda and Dungalapitiya. He literally shook that sleepy, backward fishing villages with its rocky beaches and was instrumental in supplying electricity, building houses and modernising the area.
His missionary odyssey then took him through the parishes of Payagala and Kalutara where he blazed a trail of total commitment to uplift the poverty stricken fisher folk and built a vibrant Christian community. "Seth Sarana" the Archdiocesan Centre for Poor Relief is his brain child and remains a lasting monument to his commitment to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.
In 1983, Fr. Malcolm was appointed the National Director of Pontifical Mission Societies and under his enthusiastic direction a new and urgent sense of mission was created among the clergy and the people. He revived the Society of the Holy Childhood to inspire a spirit of missionary zeal in children.
Fr. Malcolm’s unflagging zeal was not confined to preaching, teaching and fund raising. As Diocesan Co-ordinator for Human Development from 1984, he has taken bold initiatives in areas such as housing, fisheries and various self employment projects.
On 15th July, 1991, Pope John Paul II appointed him as an Auxiliary Bishop. He served as the Vicar General of the Archdiocese in charge of Parochial Apostolate and Lay Apostolate from 1991 to 1995.
Bishop Malcolm Ranjith who functioned as the Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the Beatification of Ven. Joseph Vaz and the visit of Pope John Paul II to Sri Lanka in January 1995 certainly won the admiration of the citizens of Sri Lanka for a task meticulously executed.
Archbishop Malcolm is a warm and gentle friend gifted with enough charisma to enthuse others. He is a lucid and popular teacher of Holy Scripture; a brilliant though self-effacing intellectual; a preacher par excellence; a benefactor of countless projects; a sparkling companion... but above all, a missionary fired with apostolic zeal to proclaim Christ as the Redeemer of the World.