Sr Beatriz Galán Domingo, a Comboni missionary sister, sharing everyday life with the Sri Lankan people.
I remember the day I arrived at Talawakelle, in August 2017. Instead of four and a half hours, it took us six hours to get to the mission because of the pouring rain. Five years later, every time I make this journey I am still amazed by the majesty of the jungle, the vivid colours of Hindu temples, and the impassive serenity of the Buddhas lying in the middle of the mountain. The nature and religiosity of this town are its best welcome card.
Young and inexperienced, I arrived full of passion and desire to revolutionize everything as soon as possible. Now I am still young but time and people have taught me that in addition to passion, the mission requires patience, perseverance, prayer, and a lot of humility and freedom to know, collaborate, love, and let ourselves be loved by the people who receive us.
Our people here are suffering. They are descendants of the slaves brought in by the British in the 19th century to work on the tea plantations. Due to their Indian roots, many did not enjoy Sri Lankan citizenship until 2003. Despite legal recognition, the Tamils of the central region continue to be one of the communities that suffer the most discrimination and the greatest economic, political, and social inequalities.
The majority of the population depends on the tea industry, either for harvesting or further processing. Behind every cup enjoyed in the Western world are the lives of thousands of women. Sunburned and anaemic, women bear the brunt of the tea plantation work under the scorching sun. Humidity favours the presence of animals. Based on greed, the tea industry pays three Euros at best for twelve kilos of tea leaves.
With eyes wide open to that reality in which life, especially that of women, is exploited, our mission unfolds. We share the joy of working in a diocesan school where Christians and Hindus (students and teachers) try to form good people and honest citizens.
Education is the most powerful tool to break the cycle of poverty and the stigma of slavery. In addition, it is the appropriate place to discover that ethnic and religious differences, rather than being a threat, can be a mirror of the wealth and plurality of the country.
The other pillar of our presence is the parish. More than 1,500 Christian families spread over 60 communities belong to the parish of St. Patrick’s. There is a variety of groups: more than 300 kids in catechesis; Legion of Mary; Divine Mercy group; the group of San José Vaz; and a group of youngsters.
We work in collaboration with two diocesan priests of our parish, and with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux. Our Christian community looks like a mustard seed. Despite being the smallest of the religious presences in the country, it has within itself the vocation and the strength to become a tree capable of providing shelter and bearing good fruit.
I thank God and our people for the five years I lived in Sri Lanka. The constant prayer of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians has strengthened my prayer life. The priority accorded to the family in Sri Lankan society has made me value my own even more. The simplicity and poverty with which my neighbours live have led me to try to find what is truly necessary.
The solemnity of some celebrations, the symbolism, the colours, and the smells have made me understand infinite Beauty. The serene joy of seeing the shyness that quickly becomes confident and many chats with a thousand questions have taught me to appreciate the importance of stopping and talking with people. The suffered life of these people who have been slaves reinforces the promise of Christ: “I have come so that they may have life, and have it in abundance.”
The unshakeable faith of a minority, sometimes persecuted and massacred, confirms that the Church is mother and body; that she is called to come out of the temples and the barriers of fear and privilege; that even if persecuted, is called to be the announcement of the full Life in Christ.