By Thilak S. Fernando

A combination of Sinhala, Tamil and Burgher Sri Lankan Catholic devotees living in Britain, joined by Christians as well as non Christians from other nationalities, congregated on 25 October 98 at St. Bernand’s Catholic Church in Northholt, South Harrow, Middlesex to share a rare opportunity of celebrating their much revered Saint Jude’s feast in a grand scale. The church hall was packed to capacity beyond the expectation of the organisers of the feast, The Association of Sri Lankan Catholics in the UK.

The newly formed Sri Lankan Catholics brotherhood is based at St. Michael and St. Martin Catholics Church in Hounslow, Middlesex, and according to its Spiritual Director, its goal is two fold – ‘to pray together in unity for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka and to promote and foster fellowship among all sections of the Sri Lankan fraternity in the UK’.

Rev. Fr. Richard Anthony Fernando, a Sri Lankan priest and Secondary School teacher in England, initiated the religious function with the Novena prayers to St. Jude and solemnly concelebrated the festive mass assisted by Rev. Fathers Anthony Fernandopulle, Shirley de Mel and Lloyd Fernando.

Fr. Richard Fernando in his sermon, highlighting the life and work of St. Jude the Apostle, gave a descriptive and educational account of how St. Jude, the brother of James and kinsman of Jesus (one of the twelve Apostles chosen from among followers of Jesus) took the Gospel of Jesus, with Simon the Apostle, to various countries as far as Iran, which was known at the time as Persia. In Persia both of them spent their lives working and preaching among the natives of Persia in the first Century until both of them were martyred for their Christian faith; their relics are believed to have been brought to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in the 7th Century.

In art, Rev. Fr. Fernando said that, St., Jude’s usual emblem is a club, and the instrument of his death and one of St. Jude’s epistles (letter) is preserved in the New Testament. In this letter, in verse 23 states that, when there are some who have doubts and experience despair he rescued them. When there are some to be saved, he helped them… and that it is probably the basis for the devotion of St. Jude as the patron Saint of the hopeless cases”.

‘Over the centuries those who prayed to St. Jude seeking his help in situations of despair and hopelessness, have not been let down but their prayers have been answered in the most mysterious and wonderfully unbelievable manner. Today St. Jude’s powerful intercessory role and efficacy in the Church is testified in many newspaper columns carrying prayers either of petitions of thanksgiving to St. Jude for spiritual and temporal favours’ said Rev. Fr.Fernando.

Fr. Richard Fernando appealed to the gathered congregation to continue to deepen their trust in God in the face of trials, tribulations, worries, anxieties and in situations of human hopelessness and helplessness. The men, women and children of faith, he said, are a source of inspiration and motivation for those who lack faith and hope in God.

Fr. Richard Fernando reminded those gathered that ‘ God touches the lives of those who trust in Him in mysterious and incredible ways’. Reiterating the story of the Jewish Rabbi and his frequent and famous prayer: ‘ God is great, He is good, He cares for his own’, Fr. Fernando concluded his sermon by exhorting the attendance to read the present signs and events in the light of the Gospel of Christ and, follow the example of St. Jude try to bring healing to the broken-hearted, peace and reconciliation to conflict situations of families, communities and nations to eliminate unnecessary pain & suffering from the lives of the innocent and poor, helpless members of our communities. ‘ It is the responsibility of Christian men and women of goodwill to witness to Christ’s moral values today in the world without being militant, passively or rather actively, or becoming destructive he added. ‘Contribute your share generously and responsibly to create a better and God-centred society for ourselves and for the future generation,’ pleaded Rev. Fr. Richard Fernando.

The scripture passages were read in Sinhala by Mrs. M. Wijeweers and in Tamil by Mrs. A. Navaratnam. Mrs. George Fernandopulle, Mr. Deva Douglas and Mr. Gottried Pillai read the bidding prayers. The London Sri Lankan Celebration Choir, under the direction of Miss. Anne Fernandopulle and Mr. Paul Perera, sang melodiously during the Holy Mass and assisted the congregation in their liturgical worship. Musical instrumentalists, Pitigala Brothers supported the Choir. After the Holy Mass, Rev. Fr. Richard Fernando led the whole congregation to recite a special prayer before the statue of St. Jude for Peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka and the liturgical service was brought to a close with the singing of the popular hymn in Sri Lanka - “ We stand for God and for his Glory…..”

This was the third occasion where the newly formed Association of Sri Lankan Catholics in the UK organised a religious feast in London. The unique feature of these celebrations is that it has been able to draw Sri Lankans living in the UK together and helped to make it a two-way exercise - a social intercourse followed by a religious ceremony. In such occasions a wonderful opportunity has been afforded to many a Sri Lankan to meet their old friends and colleagues whom they had not met for decades in certain cases, and to have a taste of Sri Lankan fellowship along with ‘ shared refreshments in the parish hall.

The Association of Catholics in the UK hopes to organise socials and pilgrimages (national and international) in the near future besides religious festivities. Hundreds who gathered at St. Bernard’s Catholic church on 25 October 1998, dispersed with renewed hope and praying to St. Jude the Apostle to rescue Sri Lanka from its present disastrous war situation and to give hope and courage to her people by redeeming them from the present unsettled state of helplessness and hopelessness.