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Godís Invisible Hand: The Life and Work of Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith
by Commodore Shemal Fernando, RSP, USP, MSc

Island Mon No 12 2007

His Excellency Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith celebrates his 60th birthday this month. He currently serves as the Secretary of the Holy Fatherís Powerful Ministry - the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Vatican based Congregation is located in the precincts of the famed St. Peterís Basilica just across the Papal Palace.

It is one of the key Congregations of the Roman Curia and attends to everything pertaining to the Apostolic See concerning the regulation and promotion of the secret liturgy, primarily of the sacraments, without prejudice to the competence of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith has had a fast rise in the church ranks. He was ordained a Priest at 27 by Pope Paul VI in Rome, appointed a Bishop at 43 by Pope John Paul II and elevated an Archbishop at 53 by Pope John Paul II. Known as a tireless servant of truth, justice and freedom, he has won love, respect and admiration of all walks of life and all strata of society as well as religious leaders all over the world.

Archbishop Malcolm has mastered ten languages - Italian, German, French, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, English, Sinhala and Tamil. His ability to converse and understand the problems of the Catholic Church spread throughout the world and his commitment and dedication in the execution of the enormous responsibilities of the Universal Church on his shoulders has made him one of the most influential voices in the Vatican.

Also, he has been blessed with many firsts in his 32 years in the ministry of the God Almighty. He is the first Sri Lankan ever to be appointed by the Holy Fathers for key assignments such as the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Apostolic Ambassador and Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. Prior to that he was the first Bishop of Ratnapura.

He had his ecclesiastic studies at Pontifical Urban University and Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome. Later, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he obtained a Baccalaureate in Theology, a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture and a Special Certificate in Biblical Studies.

Archbishop Malcolm has always promoted inter-faith dialog in Sri Lanka as he believes that same can eliminate potential causes of tensions and disagreements between the religious and ethnic groups that make up the country. He once said that dialog is vital and fundamental and as Catholics we must celebrate the richness of the Word of God incarnate in our life, families and communities.

Many Sri Lankans who have worked with him say he "never says no" to any request, even in difficult situations. They describe him as having a way with words and a manner of conveying them laced with affection that puts people at ease, even though their problem may not have been solved for whatever reasons. His admirers say his "bright face is always lit up with a smile."

First Sri Lankan Papal Nuncio

Archbishop Malcolm is the first Sri Lankan Bishop to be appointed a Papal Nuncio. He served in Jakarta as the Holy Fatherís Apostolic Ambassador to Indonesia and East Timor from April 29, 2004 until his current assignment. The Catholic Church in Indonesia which consists of 17,000 islands spreads to 37 Dioceses and has the biggest Catholic population amongst the countries in Asia.

During his tenure as Papal Nuncio he was instrumental in enhancing mutual relations between the Vatican State and Indonesia to greater heights. He won the admiration of the church hierarchy for the pivotal role he played in assisting the establishment of cordial relations between the local Churches and their Governments whilst ensuring that the rights of the local Church are respected by these governments.

First Sri Lankan Adjunct Secretary

Archbishop Malcolm is also the first Sri Lankan Bishop to be appointed to the Holy See. On October 1, 2001, he was made the Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples along with the appointment of the President of the Pontifical Mission Societies by Pope John Paul II. It is the Holy Fatherís ministry for the coordination of the missionary efforts of the Church and involves overview and growth of the local Churches in mission countries.

This Ministry coordinates over 1100 Archdioceses, Dioceses, Apostolic Vicarates and Apostolic Prefectures as well as Sui Juris Missions. The Adjunct Secretary is the World President as well as the International President of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which are the instruments of the Pope for enhancing support through prayer and contributions for the mission of the Church.

First Bishop of Ratnapura

Archbishop Malcolm was also the first shepherd to be appointed by the Holy See to the newly carved Diocese of Ratnapura. His appointment was hailed as a welcome spark to kindle the fire of missionary zeal in the hearts of the clergy and laity in his diocese. It was evident from the unprecedented numbers of well wishers of all religions that thronged to welcome him. The unflagging zeal and leadership displayed by him in guiding the flock of Ratnapura perhaps paved him the way to the Holy See.

Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo

He started his episcopate as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Colombo in 1991. He served as the Vicar General in charge of Parochial Apostolate and Lay Apostolate from 1991 to 1995. His peers elected him the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishopsí Conference of Sri Lanka as well. As the Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the Beatification of Ven. Joseph Vaz and the visit of Pope John Paul II to Sri Lanka in January 1995, certainly impressed the Church leaders.

Early Life and Priesthood

Born on November 15, 1947 as the only son of Don William and Mary Winifreeda and baptised in Polgahawela, he had his education at De La Salle College, Mutwal. He joined St. Aloysiusí Seminary at Borella in 1965 and after 3 months entered the National Seminary at Ampitiya. During the regency, Bro. Malcolm served SEDEC in the district of Ratnapura building homes for the needy. Thereafter, he joined the tutorial staff of St. Thomasí College, Kotte.

Missionary Work

On his return from Rome, he was appointed Assistant Parish Priest of Pamunugama in 1978 and his dynamism and enthusiasm of the certainly had its impact on the villages of Kepungoda and Dungalapitiya. He literally shook that sleepy, backward fishing villages with its rocky beaches and was instrumental in supplying electricity, building houses and modernising the area.

His missionary odyssey then took him through the parishes of Payagala and Kalutara where he blazed a trail of total commitment to uplift the poverty stricken fisher folk and built a vibrant Christian community. "Seth Sarana" the Archdiocesan Centre for Poor Relief is his brain child and remains a lasting monument to his commitment to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.

In 1983, Fr. Malcolm was appointed the National Director of Pontifical Mission Societies and under his enthusiastic direction a new and urgent sense of mission was created among the clergy and the people. He revived the Society of the Holy Childhood to inspire a spirit of missionary zeal in children. As Diocesan Co-ordinator for Human Development he introduced bold initiatives in areas such as housing, fisheries and various self employment projects.

Archbishop Malcolm is a warm and gentle friend gifted with enough charisma to enthuse others. He is a lucid and popular teacher of Holy Scripture; a brilliant though self-effacing intellectual; a preacher par excellence; a benefactor of countless projects; a sparkling companion... but above all, a missionary fired with apostolic zeal to proclaim Christ as the Redeemer of the World.