Sacred Heart Church at Rajagiriya
The Sacred Heart Church at Rajagiriya in the Arch Diocese of Colombo is a Sylvestro Benedictine Mission and is situated in the vicinity of the historical city Sri Jayawardenapura, Kotte. The efforts of the Sylvestro Benedictine Order have transformed this Parish to be a dynamic entity in the Arch Diocese of Colombo. The service of the Sylvestro Benedictines has brought spiritual and social enrichment to the Christian Community in Rajagiriya and created unity among the diverse language, ethnic and social constituents in the Parish making it a real Parish Family. This oneness which is part and parcel of the Parish Tradition owes its continuity to the constant concern and care of the Benedictine Congregation.
In 1848 with the arrival of the Sylvestro Benedictines in Sri Lanka, an uncountable number of history creating Missionary activities have been launched in the Island giving priority to Pastoral and educational aspects. The constructions of St. Lucia’s Cathedral in Colombo; St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galle; St. Mary’s Cathedral in Badulla; St. Benedict’s College in Kotahena and St. Anthony’s College in Kandy are a few among many instances for their hard work. It is a fact that the Sylvestro Benedictines brought a about a great renewal to the local Church in Sri Lanka. As a mark of furthering their Mission in Sri Lanka, and as a response to Thomas Cardinal Cooray, the Sylvestro Benedictines began their pastoral work at the Sacred Heart Church Rajagiriya. In May 1974 with their arrival the Catholic Community at Rajagiriya was revitalized. The Parish suddenly had a new look. The first Benedictine Parish Priest who assumed duties at Sacred Heart Church, Rajagiriya was Rev. Fr. Bonifilias OSB. Though not very young in age, but he was very vigorous and energetic in heart. Even with very limited transport facilities at that time, he never failed to visit the Parishioners, bring Holy Eucharist to the sick and be with them in all their needs.
With the help of the Assistant Parish Priests namely Rev. Frs. John Gajasinghe OSB, Gregory Leonidas OSB and Hilarion Fernando OSB the youth of the Parish was given a new sense of direction and with their support the Parishioners were gifted with the Tamil Young Men’s Association; Sinhala, Tamil and English Choirs; the Little Marians; the Cottage Rosary with the Holy Mass and the Stations of the Cross etc.
After Rev. Fr. Bonifilius OSB, Rev. Fr. Benedict Joachim OSB assumed duties as Parish Priest in 1975 and he concentrated on the improvement of Catechetical knowledge of the children of the Parish and on Sacred Heart Daham Pasala. The Sunday school system in the Parish was started by him during his years of service there. As the existing church at that time was in a dilapidated condition, Rev. Fr. Benedict OSB and the Parishioners were concerned about building a new church. The main obstacle for this was the compound of the Government school and that of the church was one and the same. Rev. Fr. Benedict OSB did his utmost appealing to the Government to find a solution. Mean while he began renovations to the existing church and the mission house. For this massive project Rev. Fr. Robinson OSB who became the Parish Priest after Rev. Fr. Joachim OSB, organized Passion Play at the Town Hall Theatre with the help of Youth Club at Rajagiriya to collect funds.
Under the motivation of Rev. Fr. Robinson OSB, the Assistant Parish Priests namely Rev. Frs. Sylvester Jayakody OSB, Clement Gnanapragasam OSB and Leonard Ranasinghe OSB were capable organizers of different associations and thereby a great progress took place. The organizing of a musical night at Sugathadasa Stadium by the trilingual Legion of Mary in view of helping the poor children can be remarkably mentioned here.
The climax of the mission of Rajagiriya is marked by the observing of the trilingual liturgy. In this regard the manner the Benedictine Monks have paved the way for the unity among the people; has left a lot of impressions still in the hearts of the people of Rajagiriya and around as well.
Being the Rector of St. Thomas’ College and the Parish Priest of Rajagiriya Rev. Fr. Robinson OSB was trying to find a solution for the land problem of the church patiently. His efforts were rewarded because with the help of Dr. Ananda Tissa de Alwis, the then Hon. Minister of State, the Parish was successful in acquiring the church premises. By the Government Gazette Notification of 15.07.1982 bearing No. 202, the portion of the land belonging to the church of Sacred Heart at Rajagiriya was separated from the premises of the Government school. From then onward the dream of a new edifice occupied in the hearts and in the minds of the Parishioners.
Then Rev. Bruno Daniel OSB was appointed as the Parish Priest and Rev. Fr. Cletus Chandrasiri OSB the present Bishop of Ratnapura was appointed as the Assistant Parish Priest at Rajagiriya. Under the leadership of these two Benedictines, the stage was set for a new and practical as well as spiritual growth in the Parish. In the spiritual life of the church the Lenten Walk made to St. Joseph’s Church Kolonnawa in the season of Lent and the Peace Message carried through the streets by way of Carrols during the Christmas season take prominent place. With the leadership of these two Benedictine Priests who were much dedicated to the great devotion of Our Blessed Mother, a beautiful statue of Our Lady was erected at Thala Welikada junction in the month of October 1985. There were also much progress in the activities of the Legion of Mary and very especially under the pioneering efforts of Rev. Fr. Cletus Perera OSB the present Bishop of Ratnapura the Blessed Joseph Vaz welfare society was formed.
The parishioners can proudly and honestly say that during the tenure of these Benedictine Monks remarkable steps were taken for the upliftment of the church of the Sacred Heart at Rajagiriya not only spiritually but also materially. The launching of the edifice for the new church took the pride of place. Rev. Fr. Bruno truly deserves the credit for taking the initial steps to materialize this dream of a new church. His time was spent in seeing to every detail in the construction of this new church. The foundation stone for the new church was blessed and laid by the then Regional Episcopal Vicar of the Archdiocese and the former Bishop of Kurunegala Rt. Rev. Dr. Raymond Peiris. The new church was officially and ceremonially blessed by His grace the Archbishop Emeritus Most. Rev. Dr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando on 17th August 1986. The new Belfry was blessed at a special ceremony on the 6th of April 1992 by the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese and the present Arch Bishop His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.
After the transfer of Rev. Fr. Bruno, Rev. Fr. Wulstan Fernando OSB was appointed as the Parish Priest. He engaged in completing a number of buildings in the Parish and finally bade farewell to Rajagiriya. In his place Rev. Fr. Bertram Mack OSB was appointed as the Parish Priest. He attempted to male more meaningful liturgical observances. As a result of which he broadened the sanctuary so that all the faithful will see and follow the Mass attentively. Also it is with his supervision that the Stations of the Cross were built around the Church and today it has become a place of devotion especially in the season of Lent. The Silver Jubilee of the first Holy Mass of the Church was celebrated during Rev. Fr. Mack’s period. A beautiful Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes was built as a sign of remembrance. He also worked a lot for the spiritual development of the people of the Parish. He initiated the daily mid – day Holy Mass, Sinhala Novena Mass to St. Anthony, the Eucharistic Vigil and all night devotions on First Friday of each month. The healing service at Rajagiriya received rejuvenation under Rev. Fr. Valentine Ekanayaka OSB who was one of the Assistant Priests to Rev. Fr. Mack. In 1997 Rev. Fr. Mack said good bye to Rajagiriya and in his place Rev. Fr. Stephen Abraham OSB came in as the Parish Priest. Although his stay was short, his contribution to the Parish is great. When Fr. Abraham left Rajagiriya towards the end of 1998, it was Rev. Fr. Leonard Ranasinghe OSB who assumed duties as the Parish Priest. He served there for a very long period and engaged in massive projects in the Parish. Also he was very much influential in bringing scattered people back to the faith through his exemplary spiritual life. As he has already gone to rest in the Lord, we wish him eternal bliss in God’s presence while we thank God for his life and pray for him almost every day. May he rest in peace… Amen.
While he was serving at Rajagiriya, Rev. Fr. Ranasinghe was elected as the Prior Major of the Sylvestro Benedictine Congregation in Sri Lanka. With his departure from Rajagiriya, it was Rev. Fr. Anselm Fonseka OSB who became the Parish Priest. Up to this date, he renders a humble but a nourishing service to the Catholics of the Parish.
The Benedictine lineage at Rajagiriya is an effective sign of the contribution that the Sylvestro Benedictine Congregation has rendered to the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka from its very inception on. Benedictine Fathers have always guided the destinies of this Parish and its people and they will always guide this flock along the right path in all moments of tribulations until eternity. May the divine Father provide them with all the blessings and assistance to continue with their work of prayer and service here at Rajagiriya.