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The 56th Death Anniversary Of Very Rev. Fr. Peter A. Pillai Omi September 27, 2020

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D.C. Jayasinghe

He was:

* A great and eminent educationist giant.

* An illustrious personality of Human Development, National Unity, Peaceful Co-existence, Mutual Understanding and Collaboration.

* A social reformer who heroically fought for social justice.

The pilot of social economic renovation.

* The saviour and the protector of Catholic Schools.

* The architect of the concept of the system of “The Private Non Fee Levying Schools”.

* The father of “The Employees Provident Fund” scheme.

* Above all a true foster-father to all Josephians.

 

The family tree

* Father – Mr. Jacob Pillai

The UPATHIAR (teacher) at the vernacular school Ulhitiyawa, Wennappuwa.

* Mother – Mrs. Anna Pillai

five children – all boys – four joined the Religious Order and became stalwarts there.

* Elders son – Rev. Fr. Cajetan Pillai OMI.

* The prefect of boarders at St. Joseph’s college Colombo. In the year 1920 he died of small pox while attending to the boarders in college who were infected with small pox.

* Second son – Very Rev. Brother Luke

A great educationist. He was the Provincial of the De La Salle Brothers (Christian Brothers).

* Third son – The Most Rev. Dr. Emilianus Pillai OMI – The Bishop of Jaffna

* The first Sri Lankan indigenous Bishop of the Jaffna diocese.

* Forth son – Very Rev. Fr. Peter Alcantara Pillai OMI

A great educationist and illustrious person of National Unity; The most famous and the First Sri Lankan indigenous Rector of St. Joseph’s College, Colombo for 21 years (1940-1961)

* Fifth son – Mr. Stanislaus Pillai – The only laymen

In addition to the above religious stalwart there is:

* Very Rev. Sr. Mary Holy Face of the Great Carmelite Order

Three times its prioress. She is the niece of the Pillai brothers and the daughter of Mr. Stanislaus Pillai – The fifth son

 

Fr. Peter Pillai was born in 1904 October 19 at Wennappuwa. This year we celebrate his 160th birthday. After finishing his primary education at Wennappuwa boy’s school he entered St. Benedict’s College Kotahena. At the age of 14 Peter Pillai passed London Cambridge Junior Exam with distinctions in all eight subjects and came first in the Island. At the age 16 he passed Cambridge Senior with distinctions in all subjects. They were the best results a pupil had obtained in the British empire up to then. At Colombo University College at the age of 20 he obtained BSc degree with First Class Honours in Maths. At the age of 23 in the London University he obtained his MSc and DD (Doctor of Divinity) in Rome. He was a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) at the very young age of 28. He was the first Sri Lankan to obtain BA and MA in Arts subjects as well as BSc and MSc in Science subjects. His answer scripts in these exams are still preserved in the London University. (A humorous anecdote: as a student one day Peter Pillai came home after answering his Mathematics question paper with a sad face. He jumped on to his bed with the school uniform, laid flat and began to cry loud. His father asked “Makon (son) why are you crying?” his reply was “Appa (father) before I completed the 10th question the invigilator rushed at me and pulled away my Answer Script. I could answer only nine and half questions”. His father examined the question paper well and began to laugh heartily. The son was bewildered. The father said “Son did you not read the instructions in the question paper. You are expected to answer only eight of the 10 questions”. Young Peter felt ashamed.) He claimed world attention gaining highest qualifications in Arts and Science. At the age of 30 he became a priest. When he was 32 years he served at St. Peter’s College Colombo-4 as a teacher and at the same time was the Warden of the University Catholic Hostel.

At the sudden death under tragic circumstances of then Rector Rev. Fr. M. J. Le Goc OMI Fr. Peter Pillai was appointed the Rector of St. Joseph’s College. At the later part of his Rectorship he founded the academy of higher studies. As he retired from St. Joseph’s College in 1961 he founded the present Aquinas University College Borella and was the First Rector there.

While at St. Joseph’s College, he founded the Catechetical Institute and few other societies for human development. In 1936 he started the Social Justice’ magazine and was the First Editor. Later its Sinhala version named Samaja Samaya’ was started, and he appointed Mr. Anthony Jayamanne, a veteran teacher and a Sinhala Scholar, at St. Joseph’s College, as its Editor. As I entered St. Joseph’s College, Fr. Peter. Pillai appointed me the sub-editor of the ‘Samaja Samaya’ and wanted me to help and work with Mr. Jayamanne. Thus Fr. Peter. Pillai campaigned vigorously for socio-economic reform.

At the School Take-over, he played a very vigorous and prominent part and was almost the Defender and the Saviour of the Catholic Denominational Schools. He “fought the big fight” with the then Government in trying to avoid the taking over of Catholic Schools by the Government. He almost wept when he did not succeed. The present concept of “Private non-fee-levying School” system of Fr. Peter Pillai at least saved some leading Catholic Schools, mostly in Colombo and in suburbs.

During his Rectorship at St. Joseph’s College Fr. Peter Pillai constructed the large beautiful Swimming Pool in keeping with the required standard and necessary equipment suitable for the Public School swimming meets. At the inauguration and opening of the pool, Fr. Peter Pillai, atn the request of the students, got into the pool and had the first dip.

The so beautiful and spacious College Chapel had an acoustic problem. When one speaks from the altar, the sound vibrates and echoes so badly that no one can follow what is being said. It was becoming almost a nuisance. Fr. Peter worked towards finding a solution and scientifically experimented all by himself a method of overcoming the problem and produced a mixture which was used with the help of local and foreign engineers to plaster the entire dome of the College Chapel with the newly created mixture. The acoustic problem vanished.

Realising that the student numbers were increasing by the day, and the buildings were insufficient to accommodate them, he constructed a long line of class-rooms along the Beira Lake keeping to the same style of the other buildings. These class-rooms were meant for the students of the Middle School and Grade nine. These class-rooms were not separated by brick-walls but by movable wooden partitions attached to each other so that they could be removed for any necessity. Thus the entire building with the partitions removed could be used for lecture, study, exam or conference hall. The end of this block has an attached special room for art with necessary facilities.

Fr. Peter started a Printing Press in the College and named it ‘Collin Press’ in memory of a past Rector. His ‘Social Justice’ and ‘Samaja Samaya’ were printed here with the hand-set letter type. Even the College Magazine ‘Blue and White’, Prize Day Reports and other relevant College literature were printed here. Attached to the ‘Collin Press’, Fr. Peter Pillai opened a Radio Lab which was run by Rev. Fr. Ignatius Perera. This lab was later taken to Kotahena where it presently exists, more modernized. When Collin Press and the Radio Lab were removed, the vacated building became the wood-work shop and leather-work shop for practical classes in craft skills.

Fr. Peter obtained a piece of land from the Sisters of the Poor next door to the school by the far end bordering the Beira Lake and built a playground which was called the Beira Grounds. Later for the purpose of practical work for the subject of agriculture this Beira Grounds were converted to paddy fields. Now this plot of land has once again become the Beira Grounds.

Fr. Peter A. Pillai served on the University Senate and Court, Divorce Commission, the Social Service Commissions and was the President of the Head Masters’ Conference attached to the Government. In the Archdiocese of Colombo he was a Vicar General. He died on September 27, 1964 at the age of 60. The Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts issued a four-colour commemorative stamp printed in the UK to the value of 60 cents on May 22, 1985. This Department had printed 1,000,000 stamps in the size of 25×30 mm. This is almost 30 years ago.

We thank the Almighty for granting us priests in the calibre of Very Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai, OMI.

The writer is a former Principal of the Upper School

St. Joseph’s College

Colombo 10


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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