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DateLine Sunday, 25 May 2008

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Life of a shepherd in retrospect

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Devsritha Valence Mendis, the Bishop of the Diocese of Chilaw and the youngest amongst all the Catholic Bishops in Sri Lanka turned 50 on 21st May. We convey our prayerful greetings to His Lordship on this joyous occasion and wish him the blessings of the Eternal Father for continued service to Him and His people.

The world and our Church become so rich and beautiful because of the variety of persons God has given to lead us. God places different persons in our pathways to lead us to Him.

From time to time, God sends Shepherds according to His plan to tender His flock. Truly, His Lordship Valence Mendis has been prepared by God in a wonderful way to take up the undaunted task of leading His flock.


Rt. Rev. Dr. Devsritha Valence Mendis

The task of a Bishop is designated by the Holy Spirit to take the place of the Apostles as a Pastor of souls and subject to the authority of the Holy Father. He is commissioned to perpetuate the work of Christ, the Eternal Pastor. The admirers of Bishop Valence say that they found him one of the simplest church leaders and his bright face is always lit up with a gentle smile.

Christ commanded the Apostles and their successors and gave them the power to teach and sanctify the people of God in truth and to give them spiritual nourishment.

By virtue, therefore, of the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, a Bishop has been constituted true and authentic teacher of the faith. Bishop Valence has always reminded his priests the importance of evangelization and has given great impetus to the religious community.

The priestly life of Bishop Valence has certainly been touched and nourished by two colossus of the Church. Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando, the Bishop Emeritus of Chilaw nurtured and inspired him whilst Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando, the Bishop of Kandy and current President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka (CBCSL) moulded and groomed him.

Episcopate

His Holiness John Paul II of revered memory appointed His Lordship Valence Mendis as the Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Chilaw on 17th January 2005. He was consecrated a bishop by Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando amidst the presence of all the bishops of Sri Lanka at a befitting ceremony held at Our Lady of Carmel Cathedral in Chilaw on 2nd April 2005.

Bishop Valence had the blessing of serving under the watchful eyes of Rt.

Rev. Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando for 18 months before succeeding him upon his retirement. Bishop Valence was enthroned as the third Bishop of Chilaw at Our Lady of Carmel Cathedral in Chilaw on 26th October 2006.

The Church in Sri Lanka has entrusted to Bishop Valence several major responsibilities. Currently, he is the Chairman of the Catholic National Commission for Education, Catechetic and Bible Apostolate as well as the Catholic National Commission for Migrants, Health, Tourism and Prisons of the CBCSL. He has identified education as the flagship that could nurture and guide the destinies of the future generations.

A Higher Education Institute has been a long felt need for the youth of the Chilaw Diocese and Bishop Valence hastily raised the funds, constructed and commissioned a stream for the thirst of intelligence in the form of St. Anthony’s Institute of Higher Studies on 12th January 2008.

It is the fervent hope of Bishop Valence that his creation will not only qualify students in different professional spheres but also will mould them to be compassionate in heart, educated in mind, rooted in faith and responsive to social needs of an ever changing world.

Bishop Valence also has made vast strides towards the development of the hallowed St. Anne’s National Shrine at Talavila. The world renowned 17th century edifice located in the diocese will soon possess a Blessed Sacrament Chapel for the benefit of the pilgrims that throng to the sanctuary throughout the year.

Besides, steps are underway to improve the facilities and to give a facelift to the edifice where the most venerated image of St. Anne is enshrined.

He has always taken a keen interest to promote inter-religious harmony and has rendered yeoman services to the Catholic National Commission for Religious Dialogue and Ecumenism for over two decades. He was instrumental in forming Diocese Commissions to promote the apostolate of dialogue and has represented the church on many National and International Seminars and Conferences.

Early life

Bishop Valence was born on 21st May 1958 in Moratuwa. He is the eldest son of late Mr. Bertram Mendis and of Mrs. Iranganie Mendis of the Parish of Koralawella. His parents were very humble and valued the proper upbringing and the endowment of spiritual values to their six children - Devsritha Valence, Desiree Perpetua, Florentious Jayalath, Cheryl Goretti, Iranga Mayala and late Crescentia. His mother has played a pivotal role in the priestly journey of the bishop and continues to inspire him.

After a brilliant school career at St. Sebastian’s and Prince of Wales Colleges in Moratuwa, he was beckoned by God to His vineyard to enable him to fulfill his allotted vocation. The effusive showering of talents made him more and more conscious of his obligations before God. These ideas and ideals which matured in him from childhood made him what he is today.

Divine call

Due to the sincerity and persistence of their son and the great love that the parents had for the priesthood, the young aspirant was sent to St.

Paul’s Minor Seminary, Marawila in 1975. A year later, he joined St.

Julian Eymard Intermediate Seminary in Haputale for his Propaedeutic studies and entered National Seminary in Ampitiya in 1976.

In the seminary, he set his goals straight and chartered the correct course. His perfection was to seek God’s will and fulfill it and as a result glory and honour followed him - as the day follows the night.

As a gifted musician and a keen sportsman and also as the Dean of Students at National Seminary he won the admiration of his superiors as well as colleagues.

The day dawned for him to approach alter and was ordained a priest at St.

Joseph’s Church, Wennappuwa on 20th July 1985. The Holy Scripture confirms that Abraham was asked to go to an unknown land and he responded positively and similarly Jesus summoned his disciples and asked them to go out on mission to preach the good news.

In a similar manner, just after his ordination he responded to the call of the Lord to serve as a ‘Fidei Donum’ Priest in the Diocese of Kandy. He first served as Assistant Parish Priest of St. Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy from 1985 to 1987 and later traversed new paths to uplift the living conditions of his parishioners as the Parish Priest of Padiwatta from 1987 to 1989.

Trail blazer

Priestly formation is one of the most important ministries in the Church. At the request of the CBCSL, he joined the permanent staff of the National Seminary in October 1989. After three years of teaching experience, Bishop Valence was sent to Rome to pursue his Doctoral studies and within two years, he obtained his Ph. D from the Urban University in Rome in 1994.

On his return, he served as the Dean of Philosophy at the National Seminary. He is a valued teacher of philosophy and theology but ‘Natural Theology’ and the ‘Theology of Religions’ is his forte. His fluency in Sinhala, English, Tamil, Italian, German and Latin added finesse to his teaching skills.

A paradigm shift in ‘Priestly Formation’ took place with the separation of the Philosophate and Theologate in the National Seminary. In 2000, he had the honour of being the first Director of the National Seminary’s new Philosophate.

A year later in 2001, the CBCSL placed their trust and confidence on him by installing him as the youngest Rector of the National Seminary at 42.

The stature and the capabilities of Bishop Valence were really seen in his work as the Rector of the National Seminary, where he worked tirelessly to raise the overall quality of ‘Priestly Formation’ by introducing vital structural changes. He very often stressed the importance of Spiritual formation and discipline, as the launching pad for all other aspects.

In keeping with his motto, “To unite all in Charity”, His Lordship Devsritha Valence Mendis will strive to bind all in the bonds of charity to open the doors of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the World, the joy of every human heart, and the fulfillment of all our hopes.

Happy Birthday! Ad Multos Annos!

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