Father Michael Rodrigo was a Catholic priest of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). He is most well-known for his work and activism in Alukalavita Buttala with rural farmers and workers in the lower Uva Wellassa-Monaragala region. On November 10, 1987, Father Michael Rodrigo was murdered by unidentified gunmen, and on the 10th of November this year Father Michael was commemorated for the 36 years at the house he lived in, “Suba Seth Gedara.”
Born in a middle-class family in 1927, Father Rodrigo became an Oblate in 1948 and was ordained in Italy after seven years of study in Rome. He was a teacher of philosophy, Buddhism, psychology, and logic for 16 years at the National Seminary in Kandy. And he fully engaged with the “true call of God,” starting a transformed life in Buttala.
Several Religious and Christian laypeople shared with Mojo News their fresh and valuable thoughts, wishes, and experiences over the preciouses life of the assassinated Father Michael Rodrigo.
Father Nandana Manatunge – the Director of the Human Rights Office in Kandy Diocese
Father Mike’s commitment to the cause of Justice exemplified my life. He was able to face challenges not only by the politicians but also by his own religious congregation, he was misunderstood and was rejected by his own congregation and by the leaders of the church, and the hierarchy but still, he continued his mission with faith in God of Justice. He was convinced of what he was doing, his commitment to justice, and the work for the poor.
He not only preached liberation theology but he practiced it by living with the people in Buttala. His simple lifestyle is an example to all of us and his commitment to the cause of Justice. He was understood only by very few including late Bishop Leo Nanayakkara in the Diocese of Badulla.
We have to celebrate his life because he gave his life for a cause. Even when he knew that his life was in danger, he did not run away leaving the people, he lived with the people until he was killed during mass. We will not find a priest like Fr Mike in Sri Lanka, he challenged the structural sin and he had to pay the price with his life but today no one wants to challenge corrupt leaders, even the so-called highest leaders in our country go behind the politicians for favors. Fr. Mike knew Buddhism so well and was a doctor and a professor in Buddhism but he never compromised his faith. Today we are ashamed of our religious leaders who compromise faith for favors and popularity.
Vincent Bulathsinhala – a Human Rights Activist and an Attorney-at-Law in Negombo
I first met him at a South Asian seminar organized by the International Movement of Catholic Students in 1978 at Haputale. He delivered lectures on Buddhism and Christianity. He said that Buddhism and Christianity must grow together.
The second time I met Father Mike was at a cottage called ‘Suba Seth Gedara’ in Buttala. The life he spent there was very simple and fundamental. I could see that he is a very sympathetic person who is sensitive to social issues. It was a beautiful thing to see the different types of religions and nationalities living there in harmony and peace.
Another time I met him at Bandarawela bus terminal, holding and exhibiting posters and making people aware of how the villages are being swallowed by big cities. During the Vesak season, He presented a slide show at Bandarawela town hall which shows different types of Buddhist statues around the world.
He was learning from the masses of the village. He said ” I have learned at the feet of the people, the poor masses, and at the feet of the Gurus of the village whom I always revere the Buddhist monks who slowly but surely try in many places in Sri Lanka to lead the people to the living out of the Dhamma in practice.”
He also said that every day he learns from the people, farmers, and peasants especially patience, renunciation, acceptance of their lot, suffering, hope in solidarity, and what are generally called the Saradharma, virtues of sharing, brotherhood, rejection of greed.
More than ever, the contribution and guidance of Father Mike is needed in today’s society. To that extent, even then he lived with the people in the same oppressions of the people. But such experiences are very rare today.
Sister Fatimanayaki an Apostolic Carmel and a Social activist
“Rock of ages cleft for me let me hide myself in Thee. Let the water and the blood from Thy wounded side which flood. Thee of sin the double cure Save from raft and make me pure. Let me hide myself in Thee”.
This hymn was sung during Holy Eucharistic celebration daily in 1983 when Sr. Maude then the Provincial Superior and Juniors Mistress took us the Temporary professed sisters 25 of us to Buttala for 10 days Seminar and Live-in-Session.
He explained to us the meaning of “Rock of Ages, cleft for me” from his own depth of Spirituality. When a Rock is pierced, water rushes through. Likewise when Jesus was pierced by the lance Blood and water rushed through from his compassionate Heart as a Copious Stream of Healing to redeem humanity from the stain of sin.
He told us that we too need to be pierced, and broken to pay ransom to heal and cleanse the world. He actually alerted our minds and touched our tender hearts to be real. We left Subaseth Gethera with the Spirit of plunging into villages.
when I learned that Fr. Michael was assassinated while he was raising the Chalice and Blood spilled into the Chalice during the Holy Eucharistic celebration….. I remembered the words he taught us, His vision and Mission, while he was with the villagers, have become a reality. Isn’t it a real Martyrdom….? Yes! His Martyrdom has to be recognized by the Church.
Anthony Jesudasan – the Executive Director of the Organization, Voice of Plantation People
Father Mike is a true priest who understood the “true meaning” of “priestly life” and lived in it. Losing such a priest is a great loss to today’s society. Because, due to the suppression and short-sighted rule of the current government, a large part of the people of Sri Lanka are in extreme distress and sorrow.
In the Sri Lankan context, in this persecution, the majority is silent, except for a handful of priests who stand with victimized people. We lay people feel that a lot. That time, when the people were suffering like this, Father Mike sacrificed his noble priestly life for his people.
The exemplary life of Father Mike can not be forgotten by anyone who values the Priestly life and humanity. Not only to the Priests but also to the laypeople Father Mike has shown that the “true Christian life” is a “challenge”.
As a social activist, personally, to me, his life is a great strength. a light when I break up with some discouragements and challenges in my activist career.