Dear Rev. Fathers, Brothers and Sisters and beloved brethren,
The National Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka was completed and consecrated in the year 1974 by the Servant of God, His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Cooray, the then Archbishop of Colombo, who thus brought to fulfillment the vow made to our Most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary by his predecessor Archbishop Jean-Marie Masson, during the time of the Second World War that if she saved Sri Lanka from a possible Japanese invasion he would construct such a Basilica in her honour. And in fact Sri Lanka was spared the horrors of such an invasion and this beautiful and imposing Basilica is there to remind us of that miraculous heavenly intervention.
Over the years, however, due to its high elevation and the winds blowing from the sea area bringing in rain and salty water with it, the concrete roof soon began to corrode and had led to a process of gradual decay. Although some form of maintenance work was carried out regularly, the corrosion process of the inner metal framework had continued to intensify with time. Within the last decade or so this assumed alarming proportions resulting in cracks, peeling off of sections of the concrete, falling of debris in the Church, flooding inside the Church and the multiple corrosion of the copper sheets that cover the roof. During bouts of heavy rain the seepage of water in some sections looks more like water coming down a shower.
Considering the alarming speed at which the roof was showing signs of decay, I appointed a team of engineers well versed in the matter to study the situation and to provide me with an assessment of the damage. Having studied the roof they reported to me that there was an urgent need to do a total repair which would ensure that the problem be solved in a permanent way. They also informed me that it would be a costly operation perhaps costing something in the region of 150 to 200 million rupees.
Since the Church in Sri Lanka had already collected contributions from the faithful to defray the ecclesial component of the expenses of the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to our country and much cash had been contributed by them, it was clear that yet another such campaign to collect money for a costly project like this would rather prove to be difficult. And so the special committee suggested that alternative plans be made to get this repair off the ground like appealing to foreign embassies and Governments. In this venture we sought the assistance of Hon. John Amaratunga, Minister of Law & Order, Disaster Management & Christian Affairs. And so with his intervention the Government of the People’s Republic of China was approached. His Excellency, the Ambassador in Sri Lanka of the People’s Republic of China agreed to meet me and so I along with the Hon. Minister and a member of our Finance Committee met him. The Ambassador told us that he would visit the Church and having done so informed us that the Chinese Government would indeed undertake the repairs of the roof of the Basilica which was great news for us. And so, with the approval of the members of our College of Consultors and the National Basilica Restoration Committee, I decided to accept this generous offer.
With regard to the contractors of the project, it was a matter for the donor Government to decide. We did not get involved in that decision. Facing the gravity of the situation and the urgency of a solution as well as the difficulty in raising such a big amount of cash in a hurry we really had no other alternative but to seek such help. The situation looked grave as already pieces of the concrete were beginning to peel off and crash on to the floor of the Church. The possibility of injury or death to our pilgrims haunted us, too.
And so the decision of the Government of the People’s Republic of China was gratefully accepted. Yet, almost as soon as the news of this project was out a few people who oppose this venture have launched a campaign protesting against our decision with regard to the contractors of this project even though that is the prerogative of the donors and we have no control over that. It is clear then that any other projects in which the contractors are involved does not directly have any bearing on our decision to accept the offer of the donors.
We are indeed grateful to the Government of the Republic of China and His Excellency the Ambassador for their prompt offer of help.
It is always so easy to condemn people with hurried judgements. As Christians we ought to never forget the words the Lord spoke when the woman caught in adultery was brought before Him for stoning: “let the man among you who has no sin be the first to throw a stone at her” [Jn. 8:7]. Anyway, facing this situation and the dilemmas that may come our way, I humbly place this issue in the hands of the Blessed Mother and ask her to decide for us.
May I also appeal to you my beloved brethren to pray and ask for her intercession and may I also call upon you to help us in every way you could. May God bless and reward you.
Our Lady of Lanka, pray for us!
Yours devotedly in Christ,
+ Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
Archbishop of Colombo
3rd August 2015