Autobiography of a Sri Lankan Priest: Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando

Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando

I was born in November 1943 and baptized by Fr. F.M. Goonetilleke who was responsible for the Holy Hour Prayer book. It was in Nuwara Eliya Church as my father was then working in the Stafford Estate Ragala.  My hometown is Moratuwa and I was a parishioner of the Parish of Willorawatte.

I was ordained as a Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Colombo in January 1970. I had my priestly studies in the National Seminary Ampitiya in Kandy from 1962 till 1969. While I had my secular studies at St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa till 1957 and joined St. Aloysius Minor Seminary in Borella in 1958.

My appointments – Assistant PP of Wellawatte, then Hospital Chaplain in Colombo, for a very brief period, assistant at Holy Cross College, Kalutara for few months and finally Assistant Pastor at Dalugama, Kelaniya for four years till 1974.

In 1974, I was appointed as the PP [parish priest] of Kelaniya till 1982. And in 1982 I was transferred to Ragama and I was given the appointment as the Dean of Ragama later I was serving in the Episcopal Council. While in Ragama Parish I was also Archdiocesan coordinator of Basic Ecclesial Communities.

In 1985 I got a break to do post-graduate Studies in Belgium in the Catholic University of Leuven for MA and LST. Before returning to the Country on the Christmas day in 1987 I did spend three Months undertaking to observe BECs in that country. There I met Bishop Helder Camara spending his retirement in a church sacristy.  When I returned to Sri Lanka I was made the Director of Paul VI Centre in Colombo from 1987 to 1992. Then I was appointed as the Co-Ordinator for the Apostolate of Forming Small Christian Communities in the Archdiocese of Colombo, and also chaplain of YCW and CWM.

In 1988 a voluntary group was formed for People’s Liberation and I became the Convener and which the Church leadership did not see eye to eye. With this movement I became the editor of the local theological magazine called Shravaka (meaning discipleship)’ From 1983 onwards I had the opportunity of lecturing at the Lay Theologate on subjects such as Ecclesiology, Theology of Laity, Church documents, Inter Religious Dialogue and Ecumenism. Catholic Social Teaching. My association with the Deva Dharmanikethanya lasted till 2017.

Then I was transferred to a very distant parish in Tarala-Pugoda in 1992. When the appointment given to Tarala I was told by the Authorities “You talk too much, Go there and Produce Results”. I was the PP for five years till 1997. After my stint there at Tarala, I wrote an Article to the Pradeepaya on the five-year activities. No one dared to make any comments.

After that I became the National Chaplain of the CWM – Christian Workers’ Movement and YCW Young Christian Workers (International Movements) from 1997 resident at Sevaka Sevana in Ekala in Ja-Ela. During this time I got involved in human Rights work and workers issues.  I did organize workers of the Free Trade Zones with the help of the CWM and YCW in Katunayake and Biyagama. I had also visited Avissawella Factories, and Mirigama where they were constructing factories. I was fortunate enough to attend several meetings of International YCW, CWM seminars and workshops in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in Asia and Europe.

In 2003 I became the Convener of a small group called People against Torture PAT- helping the victims of torture seeking justice. As involved in Human Rights and promoting Human Rights by educating the people and helping the victims of torture. I was fortunate enough to attend International Human Rights Council meetings in Geneva in 2003 and 2005.

Earlier I had become a member of the EATWOT (Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians) and I had the opportunity of attending General Meetings in Kenya and Philippines. I have followed several courses on Human Rights in Navi Mumbai in 2003 and in Hong Kong and also in Sri Lanka. Earlier I attended SLAT – Sri Lankan Association of Theology. I too attended meetings of ARCIC – Anglican – Roman Catholic International Conference in the local set-up.

At the moment I am a member of the Congress of Religions, Inter-Religious Peace Foundation IRPF. I have attended activities of Caritas Sri Lanka especially in Peace Activities. In 2010 I appeared before the LLRC – Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission meetings and gave evidence on the 19th of November 2010.

In 2008 I was posted to Nittambuwa as PP and stayed on till 2010. Again when the transfer was given I was told that I was disloyal to the Church- I only laughed and remained silent. Earlier I had served in drafting a Plan for the Archdiocese and presented the plan to the Presbyterium. And I was invited to be a member of a new drafting committee in the year 2009 November while I was in Nittambuwa parish. Again I had to present that plan to the Priests in March 2010. Then in 2010 I was reappointed as the Diocesan Chaplain of YCW, and CWM while residing in a church at Kalaeliya.

During this period I attended CCI Cardijn Community International Meetings in Asia.  I was appointed as the Sri Lankan representative to the Asian Chapter. I had few International Meetings in India and Thailand.    In 2013 I had to move out from Kalaeliya as it became a new parish. Then while continuing the post of Chaplain of YCW and CWM, I was appointed as the Ecclesial Assistant to the Charismatic Renewal Movement in the Archdiocese of Colombo resident at Walpola Ragama till June 2015. Later I moved out of the Charismatic Renewal and was asked to be at Samata Sarana in the City of Colombo helping the people of the Slums in the city. From the year 2013 I was involved with Ven Maduluwawe Sobhitha Theoro in the NMSJ National Movement for Social Justice even after his death who campaigned for doing away with Executive Presidency. I attended many press conferences and I did not get on the political platform. .

In the 47 years of my ministry I was instrumental in realizing in the Kingdom of God in whatever way possible. I retired from active ministry in 2017.  But now living in Evening Star I have been involved in prayer-ministry.

Also I was able to publish few books in the Sinhala Language, a) Journey in search of Basic Christian Communities. b) In 2008 I wrote a commentary to the Encyclical of Populorum Progressio (40 years of PP). c) I had begun to compose a Theological Dictionary in Sinhala already 7 volumes had come out. Letter A&B, Letter C and Letter D. E&F. G&H, I&J, and K&L (Last three published while in retirement at Evening Star while involved in Dialysis. Letter M is ready for printing. I have contributed many articles to Journals, Papers and magazines.

I do thank God for the many things in my life and many activities with many failures. And I am certain that I did not achieve anything without HIM. I was fortunate as Assistant of Dalugama to be involved in the Pubuduwa with Fr. Oscar Abeyratne the founder. All my priestly life the thinking process of Pubuduwa molded my ministry even now I am beholden to that movement.

In my ministry I always remembered the story of the call of Jeremiah quoted in Chapter One, verse 9 & 10, “Then the Lord stretched out his hand, touched my lips and said to me, Listen I am giving you the words you must speak. Today I give you authority over nations and kingdoms to uproot and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant”. Now I can look back with my life and ministry based on the six verbs found in the words of Prophet Jeremiah: There are six verbs four are negative while two verbs are positive and I am able carry on this even now. May God almighty be glorified and be praised.

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