March 5, 2024 // National

Bishop Wimal Jayasuriya Ordained in Sri Lanka

Former Fort Wayne Pastor Urges Unity, Love Amid Challenges in Diocese of Chilaw


Bishop Don Wimal Siri Jayasuriya, the newly ordained Bishop of the Diocese of Chilaw in Sri Lanka’s North Western Province, called for unity, love, and collaborative problem-solving during these challenging times, resonating with congregations amid the country’s economic challenges.

Provided by the Commision for Social Communication, Diocese of Chilaw
Bishop Don Wimal Siri Jayasuriya stands before the faithful during his ordination ceremony on Saturrday, March 2, while Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades is seated behind him.

The former pastor at St. Mary Mother of God in Fort Wayne, who was ordained as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Chilaw on Saturday, March 2, emphasized the need for collective effort to find solutions to the problems facing the communities. He expressed concern about the current state of the country, stating, “Politicians have made our country miserable.” 

He urged, “Let us shine a light without cursing the darkness, let us spread peace instead of hatred and nonviolence instead of violence.”

More photos from the ordination.

According to the World Food Program, more than 17 percent of the population of Sri Lanka is moderately or acutely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance, with 31 percent of children younger than 5 malnourished.

Drawing inspiration from the example of St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th-century Indian missionary who is known as the “Apostle of Sri Lanka,” Bishop Jayasuriya highlighted the importance of bringing God into the midst of the community. 

He stated: “I do not come to you with money in my pockets, but I come among you like St. Joseph Vaz came among us – that is, taking God into your midst,” emphasizing the need for spiritual guidance and support.

In 1658, 120 Catholic missionaries left Sri Lanka, and churches were closed or destroyed, leaving Catholics isolated without priests, sacraments, or churches. St. Joseph Vaz, disguised as a beggar due to a Dutch ban on Catholic priests, ministered to Catholics, relying on begging for survival.

Bishop Rhoades lays hands on Bishop Don Wimal Siri Jayasuriya during his Ordination ceremony on Saturday, March 2.

Bishop Jayasuriya made his appeal during his episcopal ordination at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese of Chilaw, which is located roughly 50 miles north of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, on the country’s western coast. 

Bishop Jayasuriya addressed the country’s diocesan bishops, hundreds of priests, nuns, and more than 10,000 faithful in attendance. Bishop Rhoades, Father Mark Gurtner, Vicar General, and Father Jacob Runyon, Judicial Vicar, traveled to the ordination to represent the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Archbishop Brian Udaigwe, Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka, also attended.

Expressing his profound affection for the people, Bishop Jayasuriya said: “I sincerely love you. I love you like this because God loves you. God wants His love to flow to you.”

His words resonated with emotion and determination, reflecting his commitment to serving the community with compassion and humility.

Calling for a collaborative approach to problem-solving, Bishop Jayasuriya urged the laity and clergy to work together to address their issues. He promised to be present among the people, stating: “I promise to come to your parishes to discuss your issues and problems. Not only that, sometimes I also come to your homes,” showcasing his commitment to being a shepherd who is truly present and accessible to his flock.

Bishop Jayasuriya emphasized that leaders are called by God’s love and grace to serve the people. 

He highlighted the collaborative nature of leadership in the community, stating, “When God calls one person for a special task, tens of thousands of other people are chosen to serve around him.”

During his speech, the faithful clapped several times to warmly welcome his words and his plans on behalf of Catholic faithful and the Church.

Bishop Jayasuriya, born on January 23, 1969, was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Chilaw in 1997. He completed his theological studies at the National Seminary and served as an assistant parish priest in three parishes. Father Jayasuriya furthered his studies in canon law in Rome and served as a judicial vicar of the Diocesan Tribunal. He also worked as a lecturer at the National Seminary and served as Pastor at St. Mary Mother of God Parish in Fort Wayne.

Maria Goretti Susila, 72, who once taught Bishop Jayasuriya when he was a young boy, expressed her pride in her student, stating: “I guided the bishop to write the first word, ‘mother.’ I am very fortunate to see him teaching thousands of his flock about God.” 

She reminisced about her time teaching the bishop when he was one of around 20 children in her class, noting his friendly and engaged nature with all the children. 

Susila affectionately still refers to him as “son” and shared a recent encounter at a funeral house where Bishop Jayasuriya embraced her, highlighting his humble nature. 

She continues to pray for him to be a kindhearted pastor and to find his lost sheep in the diocese.

The Diocese of Chilaw, which is known for its seaside town and is famous for its crabs and coconut plantations, includes four deaneries and 50 parishes, with 150 resident priests and more than 200 religious men and women. The Catholic population of the diocese is 350,000.

Quintus Colombage
Archbishop Brian Udaigwe, Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka and former bishop of Chilaw, walks with Bishop Jayasuriya before entering Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Chilaw on March 2.

Buddhists constitute the majority of Sri Lanka’s population at 70 percent, with Catholics making up about 7.4 percent. The country has 12 dioceses, including one archdiocese, and Catholics account for 1.6 million out of a population of 21.8 million.

Sanjaya Milroy, affiliated with Caritas-Chilaw, the social arm of the Catholic Church, reflected on his work while Bishop Jayasuriya served as General Secretary of the diocese’s Pastoral Council in 2012, noting, “With the bishop now in a position to implement the council’s findings, which involved extensive consultation with hundreds of laymen, priests, and religious, there is a significant opportunity to act on those outcomes.” 

Milroy emphasized the importance of the council’s strategies to enhance services provided by priests and nuns, invigorate lay apostolates, foster a society characterized by justice, peace, and equality, and emulate Jesus’ example in reaching out to those who may have strayed.

“Bishops and priests’ lives serve as models for others, much like Jesus, who practiced what he preached,” Milroy said. “The new bishop was encouraged to mirror Jesus’ boundless love for all people.”

Milroy emphasized that a bishop’s love is demonstrated through accessibility and guidance toward the right path, along with the courage to speak out against evil.

Nuwani Tharangani, a Sunday school teacher, emphasized the importance of upholding truth, stating, “As priests and religious individuals, it is important to uphold truth, even when it is difficult, as it aligns us with Christ.” 

She expressed concern that justice remains elusive for Catholics affected by the Easter bombings five years ago and highlighted the importance of collaboration among priests and religious. Nine suicide bombers linked to the local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath carried out coordinated attacks on Easter Sunday in 2019, targeting three churches and
three luxury hotels. The assaults resulted in the deaths of at least 279 individuals, including 37 foreign nationals. More than 500 others were injured.

Tharangani emphasized the need for a bishop who will intercede for the problems of the people and be a deeply spiritual leader, especially during the economic crisis facing the country. Tharangani highlighted the impact of the economic crisis, noting that from 2021 to 2022, the country’s poverty rate doubled to 25 percent. 

Father Niranjan Dayalal, who studied with Bishop Jayasuriya at the minor seminary, told Today’s Catholic that the bishop was appointed as dean of the major seminary due to earning
the respect of all the senior priests and students there. 

Statement from Bishop Rhoades

In a letter to Bishop Jayasuriya ahead of his ordination, Bishop Rhoades wrote:

“With much joy, I extend to you congratulations and prayerful best wishes form the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana on your ordination as a Bishop. As you know, when we received the news of your appointment by Pope Francis as Bishop of Chilaw, there was much joy, but also some sadness since we were sad to see you leave our diocese where you have served as a beloved pastor and as an excellent canon lawyer in our diocesan tribunal. We are very grateful to Almighty God for now calling you to serve as a successor of the apostles, as shepherd of God’s people in the Diocese of Chilaw.

“The priests, consecrated religious, and laity of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend will be praying for you on March 2 as you receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit through your episcopal consecration. We will continue to pray for you in your ministry as Christ’s vicar in the Diocese of Chilaw, teaching, sanctifying, and shepherding that portion of Christ’s Church entrusted to your pastoral care.

“As you know, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception. And you served here as pastor of one of our oldest parishes, the parish named St. Mary Mother of God. I pray that the Blessed Virgin Mary will watch over you and intercede for you and the faithful of the Diocese of Chilaw. She is Queen of the Apostles! May her love sustain you, as it sustained the apostles, in your service of her Son and His Body, the Church!”

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