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Caritas National Youth Convention in Kurunegala

Nearly 100 delegates including 72 youth leaders and 14 Program Coordinators from all the Dioceses, along with several Diocesan Directors and National Centre staff participated in the Youth Convention hosted by Kurunegala Diocese at the Janasetha Training Centre from 17th – 19th June 2015, under the guidance of Rev Fr Sagara Prishantha Perera, Diocesan Director of Janasetha. This program, held as part of the Project to Promote Healing and Reconciliation supported by Caritas Australia, had “We the youth for a just and fair world” as its Convention Theme. Nearly half its participants were females.

Speaking as chief guest at the inauguration ceremony, Rt Rev Dr Harold Perera, Bishop of Kurunegala called upon the youth to be ambassadors of peace at a time when the people are waiting with great hope for reconciliation. His Lordship recalled that both during the military conflict and after its conclusion, Caritas played a role in seeking to bring about national unity. Unlike at the grass root level where people are yearning to be together, at the higher levels there are different agendas at work and these retard the reconciliation process. “Therefore, as youth you have to learn to be patient and not be in a hurry. Peace always takes time to achieve and it is a long journey. As ambassadors of peace, you must take this message to the people. You must light a candle in the darkness and help people to see the light”, His Lordship said.

Rev Fr George Sigamoney, National Director of Caritas Sri Lanka in his introductory remarks said that at the end of the military conflict in 2009, the Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development realized the need for the Church to play a role in meeting the challenge of restoring the social values we had fostered and in resolving the divisions that had arisen among the communities. Binding the hearts of the people thus became a priority. One of the steps we took in this direction was to promote language learning. The other was to facilitate people to go other areas and have live-in experiences with those of different backgrounds. This was not easy at the beginning but gradually people began to show that they were prepared to put aside their differences and build the kind of cordiality and understanding that would help to remove mutual suspicion and fear. In 2013 we held an event in Kilinochchi to remember those who had died on all sides of the conflict and in all families. Those who attended this event embraced each other and realized how much they had individually and collectively lost by the war. Subsequently, we identified the need as Caritas to initiate a special program to bring the youth together, mainly from the war affected families. These youth showed a willingness to go forth to other areas as Peace Ambassadors and they are also prepared to act as a buffer group and as members of an early warning system at the grass root level.

The working sessions of the Convention were designed to include a range of topics such as “Role of Youth in Healing and Reconciliation” and “How to face future challenges”, as well as talks by Buddhist and Muslim religious leaders and workshops on Vision Building and Major Issues Faced by Youth. Another significant feature was the “challenge” assignments given to seven different teams formed within the participating group as part of experiential learning. These assignments took them to the field where they were exposed to a variety of circumstances and the sharing of experiences on their return was both informative and enriching for the entire group.

At the end of the Convention, a seven-member National Youth Forum comprising Diocesan delegates was formed to develop an action plan for enhancing the outcomes of this important youth encounter.

On the final day, the Diocesan delegates received participation certificates from Mr Newman Fernando, Senior Executive Manager of Caritas Sri Lanka SEDEC.