In this tiny country (65610 m2, about the same size as Lithuania) off the coast of India, we are setting out today to meet three conferences of young people, in the North-West province. The Conferences are based in the towns of Katupotha and Kuliyapitia, about an hour by road from Kurunegala, the provincial capital and former royal city, with a distinguished history. We are practically in the centre of Sri Lanka here.
There are two children’s conferences in Kuliyapitiya, with about 20 members: St Joseph’s Conference, consisting of young children aged 10 years on average, and Holy Angels Conference, with older members, aged 14 on average.
Almost an hour and a half by road from here is Katupotha. This is where we find St Mary’s Conference, in a school, with around a dozen young members from 14 to 16 years old.
These three conferences work with the guidance of an adult Conference of the same name, which encourages and leads them in their work of service. While pursuing their studies, the young people devote some of their time to supporting the most vulnerable in their community.
St Mary’s Conference young people visit the elderly and sick. When necessary, the members do the housework themselves in the homes they visit. The older children visit children with disabilities who cannot go to school, and pass on to them what they themselves have learned in class. They also give them religious education, since these children cannot go to their catechesis classes.
In Kuliyapitiya, both children’s Conferences carry out their activities with support from adult Vincentians or their parents: visiting people in distress, collecting essential goods.
As well as the everyday work with people in need, these three Conferences have experienced some high points during 2018:
– Visiting children in the Maharagama hospital, a specialist cancer centre, and distributing food parcels and clothing.
– Helping the adult Conferences teaching mothers with new-born babies, who have no resources.
– Distributing school books for children without resources.
– Purchasing wheelchairs for residents at a home for disabled people.
From a very young age, our young members in Sri Lanka are made aware of suffering and vulnerability around them. They tell us that it is through simple actions that we can show our willingness to follow Christ: through the gift of our time, resources, availability, and attention to others during our visits. They are a marvellous example for us all, at the beginning of Lent, when Pope Francis invites us to “rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness”, Lent Message 2019.
Sri Lanka in a few figures
Population: 21 million inhabitants
Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
366 active Conferences
3,000 active Members
(source National Council of Sri Lanka, March 2019)