The mission of Kandy covered the greater area of Central Province of Sri Lanka. The then Central Province of Sri Lanka was 5,191 square miles with 285,000 inhabitants in 1861. The Vicariate Apostolic of the South or of Colombo comprised of the Southern, Western, and Central Provinces in 1861.
When going eastward from Colombo along the main road at about the 31st milepost, one entered the Central Province or the mission of Kandy. This was the most important portion of the last kingdom of the native rulers, called Kingdom of Kandy, conquered by the English in 1815. It was surrounded by and also made up of mountains of every dimension, some very high and of shining black stone, and all, with a few exceptions, more or less covered with vegetation and very tall trees. The native population was entirely Sinhala and completely Buddhist.
Therefore, two different kinds of people seemed to be replacing the Kandyans and indirectly helping the spread of the Catholic faith. These were the Tamils who came from India to plantation sector and the Sinhala who came from the Maritime Provinces of Sri Lanka. The Tamils were the only ones who worked on coffee plantations. The Sinhala of the Maritime Provinces are scattered everywhere in the Central Province as servants or employees, or in shops or in commerce. With these people there sprang up here and there some small Catholic communities, and small missions were started which, with God’s grace yielded their fruit. The mission of Kandy extended through nearly the whole Central Province bordering on the west with the Siyane Korale, on the South-West with the Hewagam Korale, on the east with Vicariate of Jaffna, and similarly on the North North-East. At its broadest is had an extension of more than 100 miles.
According to the Ecclesiastical Returns of the Southern Vicariate for 1852, there were seven centres in the mission. They were Kandy, Kurunegala, Kegalle, Gampola, Nuwara Eliya, Palagolla, and Badulla. In the same year there were 2714 catholic people in the mission. There was also a village of Wahacotte, which was a small territory entirely inhabited and owned by Catholics, at 38 miles from Kandy on the north-west. Their origin was said to be the time of Portuguese.
Arrival of the Oblates
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, the Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna. But both groups had Fr. Étienne Semeria, o.m.i., as their Religious Superior.
Fr. Adrien Duffo, o.m.i., and Fr. Dominique Pulicani, o.m.i., were the first Oblates to go to the mission of Kandy in 1858. There were the churches of St. Anthony, St Mary, St. Thomas, St. Anthony, St. Mary, St. Francis, St. Anthony, and St. Joseph. Both worked together. Though there were two priests, one had to remain in Kandy while other had to visit the far away important out-stations of the mission. Their mission in the words of Fr. Pulicani was “Besides the church of Kandy we have in the neighbourhood eight chapels which we visit in turn. In the estates around there are over 20,000 Tamils who are completely deprived of instruction. As soon as we have learnt Tamil we shall go to pitch our tents now in one estate, now in another. On Sundays, in Kandy, we give two instructions, one in English, and the other in Sinhalese. We visit the civil hospital, the military hospital and the prisons.”
Fr. Duffo wrote, “The day, which begins for us at a very early hour to finish only at 10 o’clock in the night, is all too short for us in order to see to the various things which call for our attention. Besides the interior and exterior ministry, such as the hearing of confessions, the preparation of our instructions, the visiting of the sick, etc., we go regularly every week to the civil and military hospitals and the prisons. We have many different characters to deal with. Besides the indigenous population, there are Englishmen, Portuguese (Burghers), Tamils and Frenchmen from Pondicherry and Mauritius.”
They also visited the coffee plantations regularly where they attended to the need of the poor estate labourers. The only mode of transport was a small cart drawn by two bulls, or on foot. They remained in each estate for a few days, visited the Catholic families, searched for the lost sheep, taught catechism to the children, instructed the elders, heard their confessions, married the young couples, rectified the irregular marriages, celebrated Holy Eucharist and administered the Sacraments.
It was in Kandy that in November 1859, Fr. Pulicani along with Fr. Duffo contributed to the conversion of eight criminals condemned to death. In 1861 he was in Wahacotte where he devoted himself whole-heartedly to the moral and material welfare of the Catholics of Wahacotte. But, Fr. Pulicani was transferred to another mission in 1861. He was succeeded immediately by Fr. Jean-Pierre Perréard, o.m.i., as socius to Fr. Duffo.
Fr. Duffo during his regular visits to the prison, he had the opportunity to contact, instruct and baptize many condemned prisoners. Noteworthy among them was the conversion of the notorious brigand Saradiel. For nearly one and a half months, from the day he was arrested and put into prison (21 March 1861) to the day of his execution (7 May 1861), Fr. Duffo visited him regularly in the prison in the company of Fr. Perréard. At the beginning, they abstained from speaking anything about religion, and if at all they spoke anything about religion, it was only indirectly. Their intention was to first win over his heart. Under the pretext of distracting him from his worries, they gave him some books, like the Lives of Saints, A Small Catechism, A Short History of the Old and New Testaments, Virtues and Last Things etc., to read. Gradually he became docile and amenable to reason, and in a matter of days became a complete penitent over his misdeeds. Fr. Duffo continued his visit and instructed him on Christian faith, and on the day before the execution, 06 May 1861, Saradiel, on his own request, received Baptism and became a Christian. On the day of the execution, Fr. Duffo accompanied him to the gallows, where Saradiel knelt and prayed, and asked pardon for the crimes he had committed in the past. He forgave those who betrayed him, and said that he was happy to die in reparation for his sins.
Fr. Duffo wrote in 1863 to Bishop. Semeria: “Here then, ten new churches or chapels which we have built and blessed during the six years which we have spent in the Mission of Kandy. From this, Your Lordship can judge for yourself the progress of our Mission and the conversions which have taken place since our arrival here’’.
In 1864, Fr. Perréard visited Dambulla, a little town on Kandy – Trincomalee road, where there was a famous Buddhist temple in cave of a rocky mountain of 600 ft. high. Fr. Perréard wanted to implant the Cross of Christ in that Buddhist town, and built a church. During the month of December of the same year, he visited Nawalapitiya where he preached for the novenas, baptized many infidels and prepared some Protestants to be admitted into the Church. He also visited regularly the Coffee plantations and attended to the various needs of the poor labourers. Fr. Duffo and Fr. Perréard continued his ministry in the mission Kandy until 1865.
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, o.m.i., from Jaffna to the vicariate, Oblates came again and extended their services in most parts of the vicariate.
According to the report of Bishop Bravi on 6 September 1858 on his Pastoral Visitation, there were 8 churches in the whole mission with a population of 3000 Catholics, the greater part of whom reside in the town of Kandy, inclusive of 450 people in the village of Wahacotte.
Jerome Velichor, o.m.i.