Chicago, Illinois,USA (July 15, 2021) – Rev. Sathiaseelan Kadirgamar (80), a retired Methodist minister from Sri Lanka, was honored with OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership’s 2021 Peacemaker of the Year (Sri Lanka) award.

Rev. Sathian (as he is popularly known) is the founder of People’s Upliftment Mission Fellowship, an organization of nine local interfaith centers located in villages in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. When OMNIA initiated Interfaith Peacemaker Teams (IP Teams) in Sri Lanka in 2017, Rev.Sathian encouraged those leaders to be trained in OMNIA’s peacemaking methods and participate in its peacemaking movement.

OMNIA is a Chicago-based global organization that equips religious leaders and people of faith to counter religious extremism by building Interfaith Peacemaker Teams (IP Teams). In addition to Sri Lanka, OMNIA has launched IP Teams in Bangladesh, Nigeria and Uganda. IP Teams bring people of diverse religions together to collaborate, build power, and engage in strategic actions based on the significant issues that arise from the ground in each community. Today, there are 39 IP Teams in Sri Lanka, primarily in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and in the Kandy district.

Rev. and Mrs. Kadirgamar with the 2021 Peacemaker of the Year Award

“Sathian imitates Christ and always identifies with marginalized people,” said Dr.Wesley Ariarajah, a Sri Lankan Methodist Minister who served as the Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, and taught him at the Theological College of Lanka, Pilimatalawa in the late 1960s. “After classes Sathian would approach me,” he said, “and always his question was: ‘how does this apply in the context of the local congregation?’ Sathian understood a truth about the Gospel that many people don’t understand. It is not so much to be believed but acted upon. Like John Wesley who said that the ‘world is my parish,’ Sathian always understood that he is not just the pastor to thecongregation, but a pastor to the community.”

Ms. Thevika Thevanesan who leads the IP Team in village of Periya Neelavanai in the Eastern province said: “I know of many organizations that work only with people from one particular religion, ethnicity or caste. Anything that Rev. Sathian did, included people across differences. He founded the YMCA in the village of Kallar and instituted many programs of social upliftment, including English language and vocational classes for young people and loan programs for entrepreneurs. Many people who do social work get a lot of money for themselves. Not so, with Rev. Sathian. He always made sure that everyone else got the money. I am so happy that his vision of peacemaking is being actualized today through the IP Teams.”

Ordained in 1977, Rev. Kadirgamar served Methodist churches in many parts of Sri Lanka. With his heart rooted in the people of the community, he founded many institutions that would serve their needs. In Kallar, in addition to the YMCA, he founded a Fishing Development Society in response to cyclone-related deaths of many fishermen.

The war-years following 1983 were traumatic, particularly for Tamil people. Many innocent people died, and many others, displaced. Those who could seek refuge in countries such as Canada or Australia, including some of Rev. Sathian’s own family members, left Sri Lanka. He would not, deciding that his place was among the displaced people. A trained counselor, first located in Vedmarachchi (in the heart of the war-zone), he attended to their psychological needs, provided relief and rehabilitation and founded a Boys’ Home for the children whose parents had died in the war.

A pivotal incident in 1987 sealed his decision to stay with the people. He was with three teenagers who had recently been confirmed in his church. They were approached by a soldier from the Indian Peacekeeping Force, who was under orders to cleanout that village of young people for fear that they might join the rebel forces. In front of his eyes this soldier shot the three young people dead. Spared only because he was a clergyman, Rev. Sathian says he asked God why he was saved.The answer he got was this: At this time of their desperate need, the people need the presence of a pastor, and the country needs a peacemaker. This is your task.

Since his retirement from active ministry in the Methodist church, Rev. Sathian has continued to work with people in the grassroots, founded the People’s Upliftment centers, which, now as Interfaith Peacemaker Teams are bringing Hindus, Muslims and Christians together overcoming the tensions and addressing the real concerns of the people.

His wife, Mrs. Vathana Kadirgamar who shares this journey of peacemaking with him is a teacher who taught in schools in the many different locations in which Rev. Sathian ministered.

“Unlike the warmongers whose job is to kill those who are vulnerable, Rev. Sathian is a great example of how peacemakers walk, work and make their home among those who are most marginalized,” said Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe, OMNIA’s National Coordinator for Sri Lanka.

Dr.Larry Greenfield, the chair of OMNIA’s Board of Directors in presenting the award said, “These stories that we have heard today amply confirm what we already know about you, Rev. Sathian. We are extremely honored to present you with the 2021 Peacemaker of the Year (Sri Lanka).

Press Contact: Arrangements for interviews may be made using the contact information below.  

In the USA: Ms. Nancy Renick

nancy@omnialeadership.org

Phone: +1-773-320-1548

 

In Sri Lanka: Mr. Sudesh de Silva

Sudesh.desilva@gmail.com

+94 77 767 3328

Shanta Premawardhana

President

Shanta Premawardhana is president of OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership. Prior to OMNIA, he served as the Director for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He was also the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches, USA. While serving as pastor of Ellis Avenue Church in Chicago, he engaged in community organizing in the Southside of Chicago. He is an emeritus trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, National Council of Churches, USA, and Common Cause Illinois. He earned his Ph.D. at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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