St. Anthony’s Church, Kadalana - the sacred oasis of Moratuwa | Sunday Observer

St. Anthony’s Church, Kadalana - the sacred oasis of Moratuwa

23 June, 2019

Since the 15th century Moratuwa has been influenced by bold Catholic missionaries. In that era this area was a collection of 19 villages. It is recorded that in 1538 a Franciscan friar named Peter Silva visited Moratuwa and began to spread the gospel to the residents.

By 1558 members of the Jesuit Order came to Ceylon and travelled across the island. They built a small chapel at Kadalana, which was then known as Kadol Kale. Subsequently, blessed Joseph Vaz came to the island, and set out on his missionary journeys travelling on foot. It is believed that he had visited this small chapel. Even in that era Moratuwa was famous for its magnificent woodwork. It is said that a few carpenters had crafted a wooden cross and managed to send it to the Vatican via the missionary friars.

In 1782 the Governor, impressed with the wooden cross had asked the people what they would like, and the humble folk had asked for a place of worship.

Subject to discrimination

As the British wielded influence over the Maritime Provinces in 1806 the Attorney General, Alexander Johnston had issued a declaration - that the Catholics freely engage in religious worship. Previously under the Dutch the Catholics were subject to discrimination. By 1818 a pious gentleman named Cornelius Fernando with a few others had built a chapel on the site of the present church. Years later the tiny chapel came under the care of one Peter. One rainy night he dreamt that he was asked to build a sanctuary for God. Initially frightened the man had gone to the chapel, in pouring rain only to find that the roof had collapsed. It was years later that Fr. Felix Andrew advocated the cause for a new and bigger church.

On June 13, 1877 the foundation stone was laid for the new church, on a small hillock at Kadalana. The contractor was Bastian Fernando. During this time there was no proper road access to this area, and the building materials had to be floated on a waterway. The faithful villagers waded into the water and carried the bricks and timber to the site. The original roof consisted of 24,000 tiles. The massive church was completed by the end of 1882, and consecrated by the Vicar General of the Catholic Church.

The ‘Kadalana palliya’ lies on Mendis Avenue, on Galle Road. The imposing building painted in shades of brown has been a spiritual beacon for almost 135 years. At the entrance a statue of Jesus Christ stands in the garden. The present parish priest is Rev. Fr. Sumith Rodrigo. He explained, “This is a large parish with almost 3,000 people, and nearly 1,000 children attend Sunday School. We have 22 different church unions and societies that function with the goodwill of our congregation.

We also have nuns of the Good Shepherd Order, who assist us. St. Blazius Church is a substation of our parish”. We walked into the church through a side door where people were cleaning the sanctuary.

A 100 year old sacristan

The main altar was beautifully laid with marble, guarded by two angels. The rear of the church has an arched stained glass window. Rev. Fr. Rodrigo pointed out, “See this traditional oil lamp; it is almost 100 years old. It is so heavy that we don’t move it. Another feature is the baptism font, carved out of a solid block of wood.”

As we stepped outside I saw an old man crowned with white hair walking with the aid of a cane. He stopped and smiled. Rev. Fr. Rodrigo said, “This is Thomas, our senior sacristan. He is 102 years old”.

This announcement rendered me speechless and recovering from the surprise, I held the hands of this dear old sacristan who has already served this church for 80 years. He is known throughout Moratuwa as “Thomas seeya” (grandpa). He reminded me of a verse in the Psalms which says, “How good it is to be in the house of the Lord”. Thomas still has custody of all the church keys, and even rings the bell. He is assisted by a much younger sacristan. A parishioner said, “Thomas has so many stories and memories of this church; you may have to do a separate article on that another day”.

As we walked away the old sacristan stood and waved, almost like a figure out of the Old Testament.

His humble yet beautiful life in itself is a reminder of God’s grace to those who depend on him. The church of St. Anthony remains as a spiritual sentinel to the people of Moratuwa.