The 2019th birth anniversary of Jesus Christ was celebrated throughout the world on Wednesday, but the message from the Pope was a sombre reminder that there was need for concern for believers around the world. He told the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s highest ranking administrative body; “Today we are no longer the only ones who [...]


Pope sees signs of the times


The 2019th birth anniversary of Jesus Christ was celebrated throughout the world on Wednesday, but the message from the Pope was a sombre reminder that there was need for concern for believers around the world.

He told the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s highest ranking administrative body; “Today we are no longer the only ones who create culture, nor are we in the forefront or those most listened to….. We are no longer living in a Christian world, because faith-especially in Europe, but also in a large part of the West, is no longer an evident presupposition of social life; indeed, faith is often rejected, derided, marginalised and ridiculed”.

The “Church” has been rocked by scandal due to the actions of a few errant priests. Pope Francis has previously referred to “cliques”, even “traitors” within. It is no longer sacrilege for their wrongdoings to be exposed, but his critics, and there are aplenty within, say he’s trying to be a ‘populist Pope’.

The aberrant conduct of a few men of the cloth and the resultant public exposure, among other reasons, may well be the causes for the disenchantment among followers. New evangelical cash-rich churches have drawn their flock from the established Christian churches mainly, but also from other religions.

Pope Francis may have noticed the growing disinterest among Christians in the West, including the Church of England where Sunday church-going has fallen and many churches are, in fact, closing down. However, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the faith remains strong giving rise to the hypothesis that there could be a close correlation between the faith and socio-economic considerations.

The dilemma that faces the traditional Church is not peculiar to it. All over the world, we hear of charismatic godmen from India; the vituperative ‘anti-Infidel’ preachers of West Asia promoting sectarian strife; and even here in Sri Lanka, monks disgracing the teachings of the Buddha the way they conduct themselves in public. The religious hierarchy sees no evil; hears no evil; speaks no evil against their own clergymen.

If Karl Marx said in a different age that “religion is the opium of the masses”, he would rest easy today that religion is no longer given that reverence. As nations indulge in what has been described as a ‘clash of civilisation’, what can be witnessed in West Asia and parts of Central Asia (with blowbacks that happened in New Zealand and the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka), is the rot setting within traditional religions. Pope Francis has spoken out, calling for a change of mentality within the Order and the need to adapt to the modern world if the Church is not to be ignored. “We are urged to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith, so that the direction of this change should “raise new and old questions which it is right that we should face”.

Meanwhile, Christmas was marked in Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born, with Palestinian Christians from Gaza not allowed by Israeli authorities to pray in the city. The whole region where 2000 years ago was scattered with the bodies of thousands crucified by the Romans remains a hotbed of turmoil and blood-letting to this date.

If ‘Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men’ is the enduring Christmas message, the lyrics of pop band U-2 strike a chord in our troubled world; “Heaven on Earth; We need it now. I’m sick of all this; Hanging around…”

Sports to beat terrorism

There was more to it than just cricket in the recently concluded tour of Pakistan by the Sri Lankan national team. It was also geopolitics; it was diplomacy; and it was a fight against terrorism — all combined.

One must recall the 1996 cricket World Cup jointly hosted by Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India. It was a tournament that will go down in history for more reasons than Sri Lanka winning the cup. When the mighty Australians and the West Indies decided Sri Lanka was too dangerous a place to play competitive cricket — and go shopping, it was the Indian and Pakistani Cricket Boards and their national teams that came to play a ‘friendly’ in Colombo to show there were no security threats despite Sri Lanka being in the throes of a violent insurgency at the time.

It was then a unique situation. For the first time since Partition in 1947, Indian and Pakistani players played in the same team.  No one would have dreamed then, said an Indian scribe, of a scorecard that read c. Sachin Tendulkar b. Wasim Akram.  Cricket playing countries like England and to a lesser extent Australia and South Africa have tolerated Sri Lanka’s LTTE, even given it succour and recognition, but never Pakistan’s Taliban because the latter targets them. Both are, however, merely two sides of the same terrorist coin.

Pakistan has been unfortunate that it is in the grip of US geopolitical dynamics. Having helped the US to create the Taliban to fend off an invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in return for foreign aid, Pakistan was left with the residue of that proxy war. Now, Pakistan is considered a state exporting terrorism partly due to the fallout of the religious extremism that has driven into the Pakistani state apparatus.

The recent cricket encounters in Pakistan are not just about cricket. Sport is a great unifying force for many of the world’s problems. Many are familiar with the ping-pong diplomacy of the 1970s that opened new vistas between the United States and China.

Pakistani citizens are challenging the increased influence of the country’s radical elements. Their presence at the Sri Lanka matches is a case in point. Their government, now under a World Cup winning Prime Minister, appears to confront these elements, but has to tread delicately lest the terrorists and the ‘deep state’ get the better of them.

It is unfortunate that the Bangladesh cricketers are not taking the cue from the Sri Lankan visit to Pakistan to propel the momentum in combating terrorism and religious extremism in South Asia.


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