Remembering Fr Reid Shelton Fernando

Former CCI, Christian Workers Movement and Sri Lanka YCW chaplain, F Reid Shelton Fernando, a renowned human rights activist during the nation’s bitter civil war and a former head of UCA New’s bureau in the country, was laid to rest on June 3.

Fr Reid died at a retirement facility in the national capital, Colombo, on June 1 at the age of 80, the Colombo archdiocese said without giving a cause of death.

He was buried in the cemetery of St. Carlo Borromeo’s Church in Willorawatta, on the outskirts of Colombo.

Fr Reid was also known for extending his vocation beyond his regular Church duties to help support people from all walks of life.

Ruwini Sithara, a member of the Kithudana Pubuduwa, the country’s most significant Catholic renewal movement, highlighted Father Fernando’s leadership roles as a human rights defender and a lay Catholic leader.

“The priest rendered invaluable services by training lay Catholic leadership as the national chaplain of the Christian Workers’ Movement (CWM) and Young Christian Workers’ Movement (YCW). He mobilized factory workers in the Free Trade Zones with the backing of the CWM and the YCW,” Sithara told UCA News on June 3.

She said Fr Fernando was a member of the Congress of Religions and the Inter-Religious Peace Foundation.

Soon after the civil war, the priest testified before the government-appointed Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission “to present evidence” in 2010, said Sithara.

Fr Reid stood as the sole advocate demanding justice for enforced disappearances, including ten priests who were reported missing during the 26-year conflict in the island nation that claimed more than  80,000 lives when rebels sought to carve out a separate state.

The priest also compiled a theological dictionary in Sinhala, the most popular language in the Indian Ocean nation, to popularize theology among local lay students.

“Seven volumes have been already published,” said Sithara.

He also edited the local theological magazine, the Shravaka.

The priest was widely recognized in Sri Lanka for his writings and commentaries on social and political issues in newspapers.

Joe William, chairman of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, said, “We mourn his passing and acknowledge his invaluable efforts in advancing peace and reconciliation within and beyond the Church.”

Sunimal Sudeera, a rights activist and former YCW colleague of the priest, said Father Fernando was against the executive presidency followed by Sri Lanka and started a campaign to abolish the sweeping powers given to the nation’s president.

In his autobiography, the priest recounted being transferred to a remote parish in 1992, where authorities urged him to “produce results” because of his outspokenness.

Fernando was born in November 1943 and graduated from the National Seminary in 1970, after which he was ordained a priest.


Renowned Sri Lankan activist priest laid to rest (UCA News)