The Western Province of Sri Lanka is now the most densely populated province of Sri Lanka. It is home to the legislative capital Sri Jayawardenapura as well to Colombo, the nation’s administrative and business centre. The western province of Sri Lanka in 1861 had the area of 3,820 square miles and its inhabitants were 595,000. The mission of Hewagam Korale was in the Western Province, one of the six administrative provinces in then Ceylon. The Vicariate Apostolic of the South or of Colombo comprised of the Southern, Western, and Central Provinces in 1861.
The mission of Hewagam Korale was situated at the end of the suburb east of Colombo after the great bridge of Kelany River on the south of Colombo – Kandy main road. The Colombo – Avissawella and Ratnapura road went through the Hewagam Korale. The mission area extended for sixty miles to the south along the great Kelany River and was bordered by the mountains. On the western side it had the mission of Colombo and then lower down that of Kalutara; on the eastern side it had the Siyane Korale and on the south and southeastern side it had the forests of Kandy, Adam’s Peak and the mountains that separated the mission of Galle. The area covered also the district of Ratnapura.
According to the Ecclesiastical Returns of the Southern Vicariate for 1852, the areas of Sedawatte, Weliwita, Navagamuwa, Hanwella, Niripola, Mavalgama, Velicanni, Yatovitta, Tarala, Sitavaka, and Ambatale form together the mission of Hewagam Korale. The whole of mission had the catholic population of 2291, distributed in 11 centres.
The Oblate missionaries came to the Vicariate of the South in 1851, when Mgr. Eugene de Mazenod at the request of Propaganda Fide sent four Oblates to the Vicariate Apostolic of the South. It was the first group of Oblates to be sent to the Southern (Colombo) Vicariate. They were placed under the jurisdiction of Bishop Giuseppe Maria Bravi, a Sylvestrine, the Vicar Apostolic of Colombo, whereas the Oblates who were already working since 1847 in the North were under the jurisdiction of Bishop Orazio Bettachini, an Oratorian, Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna. But both groups had Fr. Étienne Semeria, o.m.i., as their religious superior.
Fr. Jean-Pierre Perréard, o.m.i., soon on his arrival was assigned to this mission of Hewagam Korale for pastoral care of the people. He was alone in this vast mission. Fr. Jean-Pierre Perréard in a letter to his superior Fr. Étienne Semeria explained the situation in his first mission in Sri Lanka: ‘‘the mission stretches from Grandpass (Colombo) up to Sitavaka and has eleven churches. The churches are scattered at a distance from one another along the road that leads to Sitavaka, a road that is 31 miles long, is kept in good conditions by the English, and follows the course of the Kelany River. The distance of a church from another and the scarcity of transport facilities, the difficulties which the Christians have to face if they wish to go to church either for want of approach roads or on account of the distance where they live: all this paralyses the efforts of the missionary. If one tries to give full attention to one portion of the mission, in the other portion the sick die without the sacraments. Hence one has, to be always on the move doing as much as he can till the arrival of more missionaries’’.
On his arrival, the people seemed to show some interest. But his poverty seemed to disappoint them somewhat for there were not found the necessary items to solemnize a feast even. As it was a fully Sinhalese mission, he applied himself seriously to the study of the language. His efforts were greatly encouraged by the interest shown by the people to listen to his instructions. He soon succeeded in winning the affection not only of the Christians but also of the Buddhists who contacted him by chance because of some need. He continued to look after the pastoral care of this mission until 1853.
At the beginning of 1866, the General Administration of the Oblates decided to pull out the Oblates serving in the Vicariate of Colombo and sent them to join the Oblates in the Vicariate of Jaffna. Thus, all the three Oblates left the vicariate. Again it was in 1883 when Propaganda Fide entrusted the vicariate of Colombo to Oblates and transferred Bishop Ernest Christophe Bonjean OMI from Jaffna to the vicariate of Colombo, Oblates came again and extended their services in most parts of the vicariate.
Jerome Velichor, o.m.i.