The Diocese of Badulla began modestly 40 years ago on 18th December 1972. The first Bishop of Badulla Most Rev. Dr. D. Leo Nanayakkara, O.S.B. of revered memory, left the long established See of Kandy and gladly undertook to pioneer the new diocese, co-terminus with the civil Province of Uva, the poorest province of Sri Lanka. The newly demarcated diocese consisted of four parishes, Badulla, Bandarawela, Lunugala and Welimada, which had already existed as part of the diocese of Kandy. Almost immediately after assuming the reins of the new diocese, he established a mission centre at Bibile, the Catechetical apostolate, Mission Development Apostolate, Committee for InterReligious Dialogue and the Social Arm of the Diocese – The Uva Socio-Economic and Community Development (USCOD) Centre – which attended to communitarian social action and welfare including healing and care of the sick through medical clinics in the outstations and care of leprosy patients through monthly visits by nursing Sisters, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who worked in the Diocese. Bishop Leo died in 1982, having increased the Parishes to 10 (ten).
In July 1983 our Diocese suffered much as a result of the ethnic riots. Strange as it may seem some of those who damaged the USCOD Centre happened to be persons who benefited from it, unfortunately instigated by others with hidden motives. As a result of the riots Church properties were burnt and destroyed and Catholics too got scattered. It was a traumatic disturbance of Catholic life and worship. Once again the Chutch re-organized herself to continue the Missionary, Catechetical and Development work in the diocese.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Edmund Fernando, O.M.I., assumed office as Bishop of Badulla on January 1984 and quickly set about putting firm foundations to the various apostolates of the still very young diocese. He increased the Diocesan Commissions to coincide with the National Episcopal Commissions, rebuilt the USCOD Centre, established a new Pastoral and Catechetical, Biblical Centre at Bandarawela, established new parishes and built a Bishop’s and clergy house, churches and chapels. He invited Religious Priests and nuns to the diocese, establishing also a Convent of contemplative nuns, the Poor Clares in the diocese. He also paid much attention to the Monthly Days of Study and Recollection for the Clergy and was mindful of their ongoing formation with a view to giving an all round Catechetical formation to our school going Catholic children. Having created new parishes and increased them to seventeen, he led the Diocese for thirteen years until he retired handing over the diocese to his successor on the day of his retirement in 1997. Bishop Edmund died in 2004.
Rt. Rev. Dr. J. Winston S. Fernando, SSS. who undertook the shepherding of the diocese on 14th June 1997, with great devotion has further conlidated his revered predecessors’ work paying close attention to formation of clergy, evangelization, human development, catechesis, and all other aspects of Catholic life. The number of parishes have now increased to nineteen (19) and the priests belonging to the diocese to 35 with several others of religious consogregations too working in the diocese. The latest missionaries to arrive were the Franciscan (OFM) fathers. Worthy of special mention is his initiative in planting the seed of a Diocesan Institute of Consecrated Life, with the purpose of developing religious life in the diocese and devoted primarily to missionary, educational, Bible and catechesis, and to work and to live a dialogue of life in the non Catholic milieu of the diocese.
Bishop Winston has built several Churches and chapels and provided modestly comfortable mission houses in the parishes, a home for elders at Hali Ela and new a three storeyed edifice, in the process of construction, for the Institute of Integral Education and Catechesis at Bandarawela are the newest additions.
All our Catholic children attend state schools. Providing religious instruction to these children remains a challenging priority. Therefore, imparting systematic religious knowledge thorugh Sunday Schools every Sunday in all our parishes is carried out. This has necessitated Catechists to be trained to impart such instructions. A total of 265 Voluntary Catechists teach in Sunday Schools. There are 54 Catechists who teach in State schools. The Diocesan Catechetical Institute prepares all potential Catechists to sit the Level One, Two, Three National Catechetical Teachers’ Examinations held every year in the Sinhala and Tamil languages.
All the parishes provide pastoral care to Catholics who are scattered over a wide geographical area. All parish priests have to regularly travel to several distant outstations to lead the people in worship and to celebrate Holy Mass, dispense sacraments and give necessary instructions. In many instances the religious sisters generously assist the priests in caring for their parishioners.
The Uva Socio-Economic and Community Development (USCOD) Centre following the social doctrine of the Church is active in most parishes and gives a helping hand in social action work and community development programmes, and assist in managing pre-schools.
Bishop Winston has also initiated a scholarship scheme from the primary to sdecondary levels to help the most needy students in the diocese and to continue their studies especially in the higher forms to help them enter the universities for their tertiary education.
Young as the diocese is, She has contributed her mite to the Church in Sri Lanka in the person of a Professor of Missiology in the Urban University and Vice Rector of Propaganda Fide College in Rome who has also been appointed by His Holiness as the Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council of Inter-religious Dialogue.
Almighty and Merciful God has deigned to bless the Diocese of Badulla and assisted her to progress in her pastoral mission. Catholics in our diocese are becoming ever more conscious of their Christian calling and responsibilities and are bringing up their children with a sense of mission. For the graces that the diocese has received we make this fortieth anniversary of the diocese an occasion of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God from whose hands we have received an abundance of blessings.
Rev. Fr Augustine Fernando