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Twenty fifth death anniversary of Bishop Leo Nanayakkara, OSB:

A people's Bishop - Sunday Observer May 27 2007

Requiescat in Pace-Amen. And the mortal remains of Rt. Rev. Dr. Leo Nanayakkara OSB, first Bishop of Badulla, and the fourth Bishop of Kandy, were laid to rest in the bosom of St. Mary's Cathedral on May 31st 1982. He died in Kandy on his way to an important Bishop's Conference meeting in Colombo on 28th May 1982.

Bishop Leo affectionately known to all who came in contact with him by that name, was a man of determination, active with a heart full of human sympathy well read, much travelled abroad, versatile, able speaker, simple in his ways and approachable to all and a strong upholder of human rights.

His heart was with the poor and destitute, the young and the drop outs. In fact his death occurred almost a day or two after the youth rally held at Badulla, organised by the whole of Uva, (Badulla Diocese) at which Bishop L. R. Anthony, then Bishop of Trincomalee - Batticaloa, presided.

He had a good word for everyone. But he believed that deeds are much more important than words. So he spurred everyone to action. To social action he encouraged them also as to build up a just society, not in mere theory but in real lives witness.

Leo Nanayakkara was a late vocation and he thought of becoming an OSB monk after a chequered career in the clerical service. It was a search that led to a life long search.

The Kachcheri clerk, Conrad who joined Monte Fano in 1941 was ordained Leo OSB in 1950, at the age of 33. He was on the tutorial staff of St. Anthony's College Katugastota when he was nominated as the first Sinhala Bishop of the See of Kandy.

His predecessor late Bishop Bernard Regno OSB was a man of deep prayer. Bishop Leo was a man who sought to live his prayer life in committed action among the masses commended to his leadership as chief Pastor.

Like the great Pope Leo XIII whose name he bore. Bishop Leo stood out fearlessly for the cause of the oppressed and the downtrodden. This got him embroiled in controversy and conflict. It cost him a great deal. It caused him a great pain of mind and anxiety.

Like many pioneers of his calibre he was denounced, and suspected. But Bishop Leo stood out dauntlessly and fearlessly for his convictions. It was this conviction that made him to move over to the rugged desolate plains of Uva from the cultural vantage point of the ancient glamour city of Kandy.

This determination and conviction was instrumental in inspiring a group of like minded men to blare a trail of evangelizing witness to truth and justice, in the forgotten plains of 8,088 sq. Kilometers, that form the homestead of eight lakhs almost of Sri Lankan peasants.

Bishop Leo's services was not limited to the crying needs of his diocese where he ministered to all irrespective of religious or other difference. He was an outstanding member of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Sri Lanka. He headed the National Commission for Human Development, SEDEC and the Catholic Commission for justice and Peace came directly under his purview.

He was a social apostle of national standing not doing out in social services only as in the past but more especially building up conviction among masses to committed social action and social change for a society that is just and true. He valued the common humanity very highly and wished to witness to Christ by helping their advancement without bargaining truth and without expecting any rewards.

He was a thinker with an incisive mind. He drew a clear distinction between social action and social service, between piety and true religion. Bishop Leo was from a Sinhalese Buddhist background, a heritage of which he was justly proud.

He had an uncle who was a Buddhist monk. He understood the mind of the Buddhist and exhorted the Christians to understand people of other faiths. He was a practical man who was a champion of the oppressed selflessly and not selfishly as some of the country's leaders do.

Though he was from the Sinhalese Buddhist background he championed the cause of the Tamils because he valued humanity very much. He stood for the unity of the land. Bishop Leo brought new thinking into the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Sri Lanka.

One day at the FMM prayer house in Bandarawela Bishop Leo stunned all present with a loudly uttered secret, Two books changed my life profoundly and made me find ever more meaning in life and those were Fr. Eugene's OCD two books on the contemplative Theresa of Avita.

Fr. Lakshman Ranasinghe