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Being close to Fr. Marcelline Jayakody

by W. T. A. Leslie Fernando - SO June 3 2007

The 105th birth anniversary of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody OMI, the well-known Catholic priest, musician, poet, lyricist, author, journalist and patriot falls today June 03, 2007. On this occasion I would like to present the pleasant memories of my close association with Fr. Jayakody.

We were small children in 1940's and 1950's, specially around Independence when Fr. Jayakody produced some magnificent hymns like 'Ronata Vadina Bingu Obay' , 'Nelum Pipeela Pethi Visireela' and 'Suvanda Jale Pipi Kumudiniye' with a national flavour. Those fascinating hymns with their superb lyrics, sweet music and national sentiments captivated the hearts of all. They were appreciated even by non-Catholics.

Being a small boy, I had no idea of the niceties of the lyrics, their spiritual aspects and cultural adaptation of the hymns of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody. Nevertheless I was thrilled by the fantastic melody, simple language and the local setting in them.

In no time these hymns became popular in churches. They became a must for church feasts and ceremonies, to give them the festival atmosphere. Even today most of the popular hymns sung in churches are compositions of Fr. Jayakody.

I could remember the 'Sunday Observer' conducting a poll to select the leading personality in the film world in 1956. From the beginning Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was found leading because of his wonderful lyrics for songs in 'Rekawa'. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody who did not want to take any undue credit made a declaration that he only wrote the lyrics and Sunil Santha set the music for them. But it did not make any difference.

We as young students sent in our votes too in favour of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody and in our youthful exuberance were taken up by his sincerity.

At the end Fr. Jayakody won the poll defeating such stalwarts in the Sinhala cinema like Rukmani Devi, B. A. W. Jayamanne, Laddie Ranasinghe, Sirisena Wimalaweera and Mohideen Baig.

Since then I developed a fancy for hymns, poems, lyrics, articles and other works of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody, whose prose was poetry and words were songs. Being a Catholic priest amidst so much humbug and hypocracy he was truthful, upright and outspoken. An exponent of indigenous culture he was beaming with national consciousness. I began to admire and idolize him.

In December 1970 on the arrival of Pope Paul VI to Sri Lanka, the patriot Fr. Marcelline Jayakody wrote a beautiful set of verses full of national fervour in the 'Lankadeepa' welcoming the Pope. In late 1970's I was the chief patron of 'Sama Mihira' a popular Christmas annual, distributed free. I wanted to re-publish the verses in the 'Sama Mihira' and liked to change one word in a verse to make it relevant to a subsequent issue.

When I met Fr. Jayakody for the purpose, he politely declined my request and instead wrote a different set of verses for the magazine. When it was published in 'Sama Mihira' it was acclaimed by all. Since then I was able to get prose or verse contributions for 'Sama Mihira' often from him, Marcelline Jayakody and they adorned the magazine. He was so kind to oblige with illuminating articles to other magazines as well.

In 1989, I wrote articles to both Catholic and secular press for the 150th anniversary of Duwa Passion Play. I highlighted in them that the fame of Duwa Passion Play spread far and wide after Fr. Marcelline Jayakody revised, re-cast and re-orientated the Passion play and since then it was considered as the greatest Passion show in Asia.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was so considerate to write to me appreciating the article. That inspired me to write about him who was the proud boast of Catholics as a national artist.

In 1990, I wrote an article on Fr. Marcelline Jayakody to the 'Messenger' the Catholic weekly for his birthday on June 3. In that I described the damage done to the hymns of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody in some cassettes by noisy interlude music, drowning of superb lyrics, horrible and irritating singing, out of tune. I made a request to the Church authorities to take some measures to stop this stealing and commercialisation. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody while thanking me for the article wrote to me that the Church authorities are not concerned and they would not do anything about it. As expressed by Fr. Marcelline Jayakody nothing came out of my agitation.

I was wondering whether it had embarrassed Fr. Marcelling Jayakody. To my relief Fr. Marcelling Jayakody wrote to me - "I saw Fr. Marcelling Jayakody featuring in the middle page in the Daily News Thank you very much. Your article looked like a statue cut in marble with every detail faithfully recorded. Your pen is shaping well. "Need I say how happy I was?

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody wrote a marvellous foreword that enthraled the readers to my first book to see the light of the day - 'Reflections on a Changing Society'. When I presented him the first copy in 1997 he remarked "All this time you were appreciating my contributions. I am happy that I lived to admire your work," with tears in his eyes. He passed away after a couple of months on January 1998.

In my leisure I recall the memories of my association with Fr. Marcelline Jayakody with pleasure. I have preserved all the letters he has sent to me and they are a treasure to me.

I consider it a great achievement to have enjoyed the cordiality and compliments of the genius Fr. Marcelline Jayakody.