Protestors fill the streets in Sri Lanka  (AFP or licensors)

By Vatican News staff writer

July 13 2022

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith encourages Sri Lankan political leaders to make good on their promises to give up power this week, and expresses hope that a new government will bring the country out of its current difficult situation.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has urged the political leaders of Sri Lanka to keep to their word to resign this week, amid weeks of protests over the country’s severe economic crisis.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Rani Wickremesinghe said that they would resign after tens of thousands of protesters stormed the home and offices of both the president and the prime minister on Saturday, and set fire to one of the buildings.

The parliamentary speaker, Mahinda Abeywardena, said that the beleaguered president would step down on 13 July to “ensure a peaceful transition of power.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said he would leave office once an all-party government has been formed.

The country’s parliament will reconvene on 15 July and a new president is set to be elected by the MPs by 20 July.

Appeal to authorities

In the wake of the weeks of unrest and protests, the Cardinal told the Crux news agency that the people have made their leadership “understand that they don’t have any confidence in them, and therefore the leadership was forced to make a decision.”

However, the Cardinal expressed doubt that the Sri Lankan leaders will make good on their promise to resign, noting that the leadership in the country “has a bad record of promises being kept.”

As the country sunk further into its worst crisis in recent months, the Sri Lankan Cardinal has been vocal in calling on the government to take responsibility for the current situation.

“The economic crisis in Sri Lanka has resulted not only from the Covid disaster, but also from a series of decisions, unfortunate decisions, made by the president and his government,” Cardinal Ranjith said, noting that leaders in the banking sector, especially, “have made serious mistakes and as a result, our foreign reserves have gone down to zero, and our gold reserves have reduced drastically.”

Last week, in a press conference held in his residence, the Cardinal suggested that the Rajapaksa family had lost its public credibility and further attempts by them to bring about any changes in the country appear to have been rejected by the public.

“On behalf of the suffering people,” he said, “what I strongly ask the president and the government of Sri Lanka is to take responsibility for the sad situation and resign from their positions since they no longer have the moral right to remain in office.”

Cardinal Ranjith, in this regard, expresses hope that a new government will be able to bring the country out of its current difficult predicament.

Sri Lankan protests

Months of protests have trailed the government of President Rajapaksa, who has been blamed by Sri Lankans for the current economic situation of the country. Rajapaksa has been president since November 2019, and alongside several other members of his family who held senior political posts, has been accused of economic mismanagement and corruption.

According to the UN, Sri Lanka is facing a humanitarian crisis as its foreign currency reserves have run dry and it has been unable to import food, fuel, and medicines. The ensuing massive economic decline of the country has been made worse by soaring fuel prices and power cuts.

Since March, there have been widespread protests calling for the resignation of the Rajapaksas, including a demand that he be held accountable for the dire situation in which the country’s 22 million population finds itself.

The storming of the official residences of the president and prime minister on Saturday was the culmination of months of mainly peaceful protests. Images shared online showed protesters pouring through the official residence of the president, with some taking advantage of some amenities, including the swimming pool. Others rifled through personal belongings.

The Church in the service of those in need

As the country wades through these difficult times, the Church has been present and active in providing support for those in need, through Caritas at both the diocesan and international levels.

Through Caritas, the church in Sri Lanka has arranged programs “to identify the most affected families in the areas of our dioceses, and to organize immediate support for sustenance, as well as short-term support for self-help programs in order to generate food and other items they need,” Cardinal Ranjith said.

Noting that many hospitals have no medicine to provide proper healthcare for those who are sick, the Cardinal appealed for support from the international community, calling on governments and organizations to “purchase some of the medicines necessary for our people, especially our children, and to send it down to Sri Lanka as donations.”

The Cardinal also said that leaders from other religious communities, including Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus, are working together to provide aid to the population, and they plan to form a relationship with any government that is formed “in order to keep social acceptance and social peace.”

Pope Francis, during the Angelus on Sunday, expressed his closeness to the Sri Lankan people “who continue to suffer the effects of political and economic instability” and urged the leaders “not to ignore the cry of the poor and the needs of the people.”

Vatican News