Avishka Mario Senewiratne in Q and A with Fr Poruthota (1931-2020) ………… Interview in May 2018 and originally published in the Messenger, May, 27, 2018.
Today the Messenger carries a very special and exclusive interview with one of the most senior and popular priests in the Archdiocese of Colombo, Rev. Fr. Ernest Poruthota. Since his ordination in 1957, Fr. Poruthota has served in ten parishes in different parts of the Archdiocese. As Asst. Parish Priest in Kotahena (1957-59), Moratuwa (1959-60), Pamunugama (1960), Dehiwala (1960-62) and Parish Priest in Dehiyagatha (1962-66), Kelaniya (1967-74), Kalamulla (1974-82), Kotte (1982-87), Wattala (1991-1997), Dehiwala (1997-2004), Kirimatiyagara (2004-2011). Apart from Parishes he has served as the Chaplain of lay Apostolate (1966-67), Director PMS (1971-74), Chaplain YCW, CWM (1983-87), Dean of Colombo (1987-91).
Apart from his busy schedule in the Parishes, he authored many books including “Gihiya”, “Chithrapata Gana”, “Meesama”, “kithunu Peraliya” and “Cardinal Cooray”. However, he is best known island-wide for his yeoman service and contribution to the film industry in Sri Lanka. With regard to media, he held the following offices, 1st National Director of OCIC (1972-82), Vice President of OCIC (1978), Director Media Centre Csr (1989-97), Founder-member of Film Critics and Journalists Association (FOAC) in 1968.
Now retired from active Parish Life, Fr. Poruthota is spending the evening of his life by the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Lunawa, Moratuwa. Fr. Poruthota gave us a warm welcome and was ready to give a wealth of information on his glory days serving God and his creations.
The Q and A Session
Fr. Poruthota, you were born on August 31 1931 as the eldest of a family of five. Though you were the eldest of the family we have heard you used to be very mischievous. Would you mind sharing some thoughts of those good old days?
Certainly! (Laughing)…. Well not just mischievous but more than mischievous! I will tell you one incident that happened to me when I was around my early teens.
It was an altar server that time in my home Parish in Marawila. On Good Friday there used to be a long three hour service. As altar boys we were compelled to stay there till the end. However, my friends and I could not tolerate the long sermons and we were sweating as we wore black cassocks that day. So, we decided to escape from the altar. Luckily, we got a chance to go behind the church. We took no time and decided to leave the premises soon. My friends and I went around the church area and had some fun and eating around. Somehow we managed to come at the end of the service. So you can measure how mischievous I was!
I’m not going to ask what happened next on Good Friday! Is it true that this young mischievous boy was inspired to be a Priest after his loving Grandmother requested him to go to the seminary?
Yes. My Grandmother was very close to me and she had a dream of seeing me in cassocks. She always wanted to see me being a priest. Perhaps she so me beyond my mischievousness!
After deciding to go to the seminary, we hired a car to drop me at St. Aloysius’ Minor Seminary. As soon as I stepped into the portico of the Seminary my grandmother said “Listen my son! This step you took forward should never be taken back”. That was around 1944. With time I realised that God wants me to be a priest for sure.
For more than 55 years you were serving in many Parishes in the Archdiocese. What kind of experience did you have in such diverse parishes?
Well, working with all kinds of people was a blessing. You know, I was quite revolutionary in the way I thought and worked. Some didn’t like it, but it certainly was well benefited by many. I did not stick to the norms. I did what was right and what was supposed to be done. Vatican II gave me freedom to experiment my ideas.
With the significant changes after Vatican II in the 1960s, as you said, you effected many changes never seen by our locals. Would you mind telling us the changeS you contributed at that time?
Certainly! With Vatican II the Latin rite was translated to the native language. We made changes in the liturgy so as to make people feel what the liturgy really meant to be. When I was in coastal Parishes I had masses at the beach side and at in sailing boats. People were well influenced by these measures we took. I was lucky to part in preparing the Social Doctrine document which was released with the Papal Visit of Bl. Pope Paul VI in 1970. This revolutionised the church in Sri Lanka.
For almost 30 years you travelled and did all your tasks using your Piaggio Vespa Scooter. With all your work in parishes and commitments was this enough to provide you what you needed?
Yes of course (smiling). My 2 ශ්රී 341 Vespa Scooter provided all what I wanted. It was very convenient, cheap and comfortable to me. After almost three decades I gave it back to Italy. It’s presently kept in a museum!
Since your early life in the Seminary, you would write to the Pradeepaya and Messenger on films. Later you would write many books on many topics. What inspired you to be an author?
I was inspired by my father who was the Head Master in my village school and an author of more than a dozen of books. I used to go to the press with my father. These experiences inspired me to write books. I wrote many books and that was one way in nurturing the laity as it was easy for me to approach their minds.
However, despite your work in Parishes and writing books and articles you are best remembered for your contribution for cinema! We do not see priests getting much involved in the film industry. What made you interested in films?
When I was in the Minor Seminary in the 1940s, Fr. D.J. Nicholas Perera, our Rector influenced many of us to love aesthetics. He experimented many ways so that we can experience many types of aesthetic activities. When he started showing films this made me inspired. Later on I would write articles on films as a film critic.
In a society where people envy the achievements of others, you were able to encourage, motivate and felicitate deserving artists in the film industry with a pure and loving heart. What made you do this?
Back in the 1970s I was heading the OCIC. It was a time where our own film artists were discouraged and not awarded for their unique talents. If this went on the local film industry would fall. So we decided that felicitating our film artists and film makers was essential. Then started to awards them Later on SIGNIS was formed from OCIC, and that’s the origin of the SIGNIS awards. I never made films nor wrote scripts but through OCIC I was able to produce many film makers.
A few weeks ago we saw the death of the greatest film Director of our Nation, Dr. Lester James Peiris. What kind of relationship did you have with him?
Lester was a good Christian and remained a Christian till the end. I used to borrow films from him and Mr. D.B. Nihalsinghe and show to the youth in my parishes. I used to promote his good creations among the people who did not have facilities to go to theatres. I was shocked to see people steal his awards during his funeral. This shows how inhuman some of us are.
We live in age where many people are bed-ridden when they reach half of their middle age. However, you were able to go on running parishes till the age of 80! What’s your secret behind this feat?
Well, it’s not much of a secret. I always wake up early in the morning around 4.00 am and then drink a bottle of fresh water. Later on exercise a bit and pray. When you learn to get up early your day is long. However, you must sleep early as possible as well!
Being a senior Priest I’m sure you have a message for the junior Priests in our country.
Yes. A priest is someone who must be with his people, who must talk with them and nurture them. They should not be confined to one place but instead go everywhere and see through people and take the best out of them to help God’s plan. Remember to have inter-religious dialog and unite people not divide them.
Father, my final question for you is on the youth. You’ve always have been with them and motivated them. What’s your message to the young generation?
My dear children, always love to read, travel and enjoy all days of your life. Engage in what’s modern like IT and motor mechanisms. Get to know people as much as you could and believe in God’s grace each day of your life. Remember you laity are the church and you have to take responsibility to go on. Priests and Bishops come from you so do good things always!