Bishop from Sri Lanka visits Diocese to share stories of faith

August 3, 2017

CLIFTONBishop Cletus C. Perera, a Benedictine priest from the Sylvesterine congregation, of the Diocese of Ratnapura in Avissawella, Sri Lanka, came far from his home to the Paterson Diocese recently to share the stories and struggles about the faithful he leads in his diocese.

Located on the southeast coast of India, the Diocese of Ratnapura consists of 23 parishes and is one of the poorest in the island country. They face much adversity, but Bishop Perera said, The people s faith is strong.

Considered a missionary diocese, the Diocese of Ratnapura was established in 1995 by St. John Paul II. It has a small population of Catholics only one percent of the population about 20,000 Catholics. Most of the residents are Buddhists. Currently, 42 priests, both diocesan priests and priests of religious orders, such as the Benedictines, Jesuits, Franciscans, Oblates and Rosarians, serve the Catholic population.

Bishop Perera, a native of Sri Lanka who comes from a few generations of Catholics, was consecrated a bishop in Rome on July 11, 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI and was installed on July 28, 2007 as the Bishop of Ratnapura in Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ratnapura. During his 10 years as Bishop of Ratnapura, Bishop Perera has worked to improve the spiritual and pastoral lives of the people, many of whom travel by foot to attend Mass on Sundays. In addition, the priests have to travel to serve the people. During Bishop Perera s early days serving as a young priest, he recalls visiting five different parishes to say Mass at each parish by riding a motorbike to get to each parish in time to celebrate Mass.

The Diocese of Ratnapura operates a catechetical and retreat centers, an English academy, a clergy house, several orphanages and two homes for the elderly. In its social services, the Diocese assists all people regardless of religion. The area is prone to natural disasters and was recently affected by massive floods and deadly landslides.

He is always fighting for the poor, said Benedictine Father Louis-Marie Navaratne who serves at Holy Face Monastery here, where Bishop Perera stayed during his visit to the Diocese. Benedictine Father Bernard Schinn, superior of Holy Face Monastery, invited the Sri Lankan bishop to stay at Holy Face during his visit to the U.S. Bishop Perera celebrated Mass there this past weekend.

Bishop Perera and Father Louis have known each since they were both young religious. Father Louis said, Bishop Perera is about four years older than me and it was when he was Brother Cletus that he taught me how to play the organ. He eventually became superior of the prior in Sri Lanka when I was serving there.

Bishop Perera was in the Diocese to appeal to the Diocesan Mission Office for a possible fund-raising project for his diocese to take place next August. He said he hopes to return to the Paterson Diocese for another visit. We hope to grow our youth apostolate and focus on their educational and catechetical needs. We also maintain three orphanages, which we hope to continue to maintain to feed and clothe the children, Bishop Perera said.

While the Diocese of Ratnapura is considered young at 22, many of its parishes are a part of an older diocese, which is the Diocese of Galle. Some of our churches are more than a century old and many are dilapidated. We hope to repair them, said Bishop Perera.

Another current problem facing not just the Diocese of Ratnapura but the country of Sri Lanka is the spread of Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne tropical disease. We have been helping not only the Catholics but also the Buddhist population as well to fight this disease. It s a part of our identity to help all, said the bishop.

As Bishop Perera headed back home earlier this week, he said he is grateful for his visit to the Paterson Diocese and Bishop Serratelli, whom he previously met three years ago. He was given a small crucifix as a gift from Bishop Serratelli, which he still uses. I thank the Paterson Diocese and Bishop Serratelli with God s blessings and assurance of prayers, he said.

Bishop Cletus Chandrasiri

Bishop Cletus Chandrasiri Perera O.S.B.

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