By Commodore Shemal Fernando, RSP, USP, MSc
"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" are the words that sprang from the heart of Mary, our Heavenly Mother, at a time when she experienced her special election by God for a unique mission. It is with these same words giving expression to the immense sense of gratitude to God that His Grace the Most Rev. Dr. Malcolm Ranjith assumed the pivotal role of the Chief Shepherd of Colombo in August last year
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has now elevated His Grace the Archbishop to the dignity of a Cardinal – the highest rank in the Roman Catholic Church for a Priest. At a solemn ceremony to be held in St. Peter’s Basilica which is officially referred to as ‘Consistory for the Creation of Cardinals’, the Holy Father will bestow on the Archbishop the biretta, that is the Cardinal’s red hat as well as his "title" or titular Church which is found in Rome along with the Cardinal’s ring.
His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm who is 62, will become part of the ‘College of Cardinals’ whose very crimson colour vestments symbolize the commitment to serving the Gospel "to the spilling of blood", as recited in the Latin formula which they will swear. The prime duty of the 120 Cardinals under the age of 80 will be to take part at Conclaves that ‘Elect the Pope’. In ecclesiastical heraldry, Cardinals surmount their ‘Coat of Arms’ with a scarlet galero with thirty tassels which is an ancient symbol of their office.
The portrait of Cardinal Malcolm in the Ministry of the God Almighty is one immensely blessed and decorated with many firsts unparallel in the history. He has had a fast rise in the church hierarchy. He was ordained a Priest at 27 by Pope Paul VI in Rome, consecrated a Bishop at 43 by Pope John Paul II, elevated an Archbishop at 53 by Pope John Paul II and now made a Cardinal at 62 by Pope Benedict XVI. Known as a tireless servant of truth, justice and freedom, he has won love, respect and admiration of Catholics all over the world.
Cardinal Malcolm is a warm and sincere 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.
His Eminence 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 has made him one of the most influential voices in the world.
Many Sri Lankans who have worked with him say he "never says no" to any request, even in extreme 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. He has once said that "love for the liturgy and love for the poor… have been the compass of his life as a priest." His admirers say his "bright face is always lit up with a smile."
Cardinal Malcolm has always promoted inter-faith dialogue 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 dialogue is vital and fundamental and as Catholics we must celebrate the richness of the Word of God incarnate in our lives, families and communities.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Colombo
On June 16, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Colombo. In a letter to then Archbishop Malcolm, Pope Benedict said that "I wish to express my sincere thanks for the fidelity, the commitment and competence with which you exercised that office" and also expressed that "we have reason to be encouraged by the good you will be able to perform among the peoples of your land.'
Cardinal Malcolm was among the 34 Metropolitan Archbishops across the world and the first Sri Lankan to receive his pallium from Pope Benedict on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29, 2009. He was greeted with warmth and solemnity upon his arrival in Sri Lanka on July 31, 2009 and took formal canonical possession of the Metropolitan See of Colombo with an Eucharistic Celebration on August 5, 2009.
First Sri Lankan Secretary of Congregation
On December 10, 2005 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI appointed then Archbishop Malcolm as the Secretary of the Holy Father’s powerful Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He is the first and only Sri Lankan to be bestowed with such a unique honour of directly assisting the Holy Father as the Secretary of a Congregation in the Vatican City.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments 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 sacred liturgy, primarily of the sacraments, without prejudice to the competence of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith.
First Sri Lankan Papal Nuncio
He is the first Sri Lankan to be appointed a Papal Nuncio. He served in Jakarta as the Holy Father’s Apostolic Ambassador to Indonesia and East Timor from April 29, 2004 until his return to Rome. The Catholic Church in Indonesia consists of 17,000 islands and spreads to 37 Dioceses and has one of the biggest Catholic populations amongst the countries in Asia. Upon his appointment as the Papal Nuncio, he was also raised to the rank of Titular Archbishop of Umbriatico.
During his tenure he succeeded 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 Governments.
First Sri Lankan Adjunct Secretary
He 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 Father’s ministry for the coordination of the missionary efforts of the Church and involves overview and growth of the local Churches in the missionary 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
He was also the first shepherd to be appointed by the Holy See to the newly carved Diocese of Ratnapura. He took office as the Bishop of Ratnapura on November 2, 1995. 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
On June 17, 1991 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Colombo and Titular Bishop of Cabarsussi. He received his Episcopal consecration on August 31, 1991 from Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando. 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 Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka as well. He won the admiration of the entire nation for efficient execution of his role 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.
Priesthood and Missionary Work
On June 29, 1975 he was ordained to the priesthood by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. He then pursued post graduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome from where he obtained a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture in 1978. He also attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he undertook scriptural research and obtained a Special Certificate in Biblical Studies.
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 named 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.
Birth and Early Life
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 entered St. Aloysius’ Seminary in Borella in 1965. From 1966 to 1970, he pursued studies in theology and philosophy at the National Seminary in Kandy. During the regency, Bro. Malcolm served SEDEC in the district of Ratnapura building homes for the needy. He was thereafter sent to Rome for priestly studies and graduated from the Pontifical Urbanian University with a Baccalaureate in Theology.
(The writer is a freelance journalist whose by-line appears in English newspapers and magazines regularly. This article is adapted from a tribute to then Archbishop Malcolm published in 1997)