Welcoming the Seventh Bishop of Kandy: Bishop Valence Mendis
On 9th October 2021, the Vatican announced the appointment of Rt. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis (Bishop of Chilaw) as the Bishop of Kandy by His Holiness Pope Francis, succeeding Bishop Vianney Fernando on his retirement after a very fruitful and record-breaking long episcopate spanning more than 38 years. His installation as the 7th Bishop of Kandy will take place on 17th January 2022 at St. Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy at a ceremony to be presided over by Bishop Vianney after which he will simultaneously shepherd the Diocese of Chilaw as its Apostolic Administrator.
Bishop Valence is no stranger to Kandy. Soon after his ordination as a priest for the Diocese of Chilaw on 20th July 1985, he was given as a “fidei donum priest” (i.e temporarily ‘loaned’) to the Diocese of Kandy by the late Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando, for a period of two years. This was in response to a request made by Bishop Vianney for a young priest to tide over a crisis arising out of a dearth of priests in the Diocese of Kandy. Thus, on 15th August 1985, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, a young, handsome, pleasant priest celebrated the 5.30 p.m. Holy Mass at St. Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy. The Holy Mass was edifying and the sermon was inspiring and the people of Kandy took an instant liking to this young priest whom the then Parish Priest, the late Rev. Fr Gregory Fernando introduced as “Fr. Valence Mendis who has been loaned to the Diocese of Kandy by the Bishop of Chilaw for a short period”.
Impressed both by his abilities as well as his priestly commitment, Bishop Vianney recommended to Bishop Frank Marcus in early 1987 that Fr. Valence should pursue higher studies. This was readily agreed upon by Bishop Frank Marcus who extended his period in the Diocese of Kandy by two more years so that he could read for a Master’s Degree at the University of Peradeniya.
He was transferred as the Parish Priest of Padiwatte in 1987, where he effectively used his talents and managed his time to nurture the parish and build up a vibrant community while pursuing his university career.
During this time, he also made use of his talents as a musician, lyricist and vocalist. His melodious rendition of his own composition “wdor foú iñf|a“ (Aadara Devi Saminde) in the first ever audio cassette produced by the Diocese of Kandy in 1987 to commemorate the tercentenary of the arrival of St. Joseph Vaz in Sri Lanka in 1687 and the centenary of the Diocese, is still fresh in the minds of the people. (In recognition of his contribution to produce the cassette, Bishop Vianney decided to name it “wdor foú iñf|a“.
He reached out to all people without any form of favouritism or discrimination. To him all were children of God. He did not condemn the rich, but inspired them to care for the needy and the down-trodden. By his actions and persuasion, and through his inspiring and meaningful sermons he showed that one can work for the upliftment of the poor as well as act against injustice and abuse without being portrayed as a revolutionary. When it came to serving the poor or anyone in need, he always advised the people to reach out to them – (“walk the extra mile for the sake of others” was his favourite saying), and his advice was well heeded by the people because he practiced what he preached. Special mention must be made about how he guided and safeguarded the youth of the Padiwatte Parish (both Catholic and Buddhist) during the turbulent period of youth unrest and violence in 1988/1989.
He presented his thesis on “Ritualism in Buddhism” and obtained a Master of Arts degree in Comparative Religion from the University of Peradeniya in 1989.
His brief stay of 2 ½ years as Parish Priest of Padiwatte culminated with the very meaningful celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the Fatima Shrine (the only Marian Shrine of the Diocese of Kandy) in October 1989. At the conclusion of the celebrations, Bishop Vianney publicly thanked him for his services to the Diocese and announced that he would henceforth revert to the Diocese of Chilaw.
In fact, when Bishop Vianney had thanked Bishop Franck Marcus for giving him a very good priest, he had said: “when I give, I give of my best”. On his return to the Diocese of Chilaw, Bishop Frank Marcus decided that his talents should be made use of to train, guide and mould the future priests of Sri Lanka. Thus began his career at the National Seminary, Ampitiya, in October 1989.
From the National Seminary he proceeded to Rome in September 1992 to read for a Doctorate in Philosophy at the Urban University. I realized the importance of his doctoral thesis (Philosophy of Creation in St. Thomas Aquinas: MAKING GOD INTELLIGIBLE TO NON-THEISTS”), only when I heard the then Abbot General of the Sylvestro-Benedictine Congregation telling him in June 1993: “Young man, you have chosen a daring subject for your thesis. I wish you good luck!”. On successfully defending his doctoral thesis within a short period of two years, he returned to the National Seminary in October 1994 and was appointed the Dean of Philosophy. When a decision was taken by the Bishops’ Conference to house the Philosophy students at a separate location, he was entrusted with the task of supervising the designing and construction of the new complex. The magnificent complex housing the Philosophate is ample proof of his versatility.
Having served the National Seminary as its first Director of the Philosphate (from October 2000) and thereafter as the Rector (from 4th February 2001), he was ordained the Co-adjutor Bishop of Chilaw on 2nd April 2005. He succeeded Bishop Frank Marcus as the Bishop of Chilaw on his retirement on 28th October 2006.
His deep spirituality which is focused on Christ and his devotion to Mother Mary and the Saints are worthy of emulation. His, is a spirituality which is a combination of prayer and action – a spirituality based on Jesus’ message of love and concern not only for the poor, the needy and the oppressed, but for all people.
Unity and charity are two words that are very dear to him – two virtues he practices very much. He is a keen promoter of unity in families, in communities, in parishes and also among peoples of different cultures, ethnicity and creed. Charity, he practices to the hilt. Therefore, it was no wonder that he chose as his motto “UNIRE OMNES IN CARITATE” (i.e., To Unite All In Charity). Indeed, his motto is a true reflection of what he has been and his vision for the future.
Up to now, Bishop Valence has shepherded the Diocese of Chilaw for 15 years. For the sake of brevity, his numerous works for the spiritual nourishment and social upliftment of his flock are not enumerated here. It suffices to mention that his commitment to justice, peace and other social issues has beautifully blended with the ultimate goal of proclaiming Jesus Christ and his message of love and peace.
He is with a smile even in times of crisis. He personifies the servant who doubled his talents for his master (as mentioned in Jesus’ parable – Mathew 25:14-30) because he continues to make full use of his gifts for the sake of Christ, His Church and His people. He put the needs of the Church above everything else when he acceded to the request of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Shepherding two Dioceses simultaneously is no easy task. Yet his zeal and commitment combined with his total trust and faith in God through the intercession of Mother Mary and the Saints will surely help him to be a true shepherd – a shepherd unto God’s heart (cf. Jeremiah 3:15).
The Diocese of Kandy is fortunate to have in Bishop Valence a worthy successor to Bishop Vianney as its seventh Bishop, and he has the unique distinction of succeeding two erudite and much respected Bishops of Sri Lanka in contemporary times and also simultaneously shepherding two important Dioceses, Chilaw and Kandy.
Born and bred in Moratuwa; ordained a Priest for the Diocese of Chilaw; formative years as a newly ordained priest in the Diocese of Kandy; assists the Church in Sri Lanka in guiding and moulding its future priests; goes back to the Diocese of Chilaw as its shepherd; and now comes back to the Diocese of Kandy as its shepherd while not abandoning the Diocese of Chilaw. The “fidei donum priest” of 1985 becomes the Bishop of the Diocese in 2022! All these form God’s mysterious providential plan for all of us – HIS Chosen Children through our Baptism. No wonder God tells us: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways … My thoughts are above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9), and invites us to place our faith and trust in HIM for: “With God nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37).
As Bishop Valence takes over the Diocese of Kandy, it is our duty to seek the intercession of Mother Mary and the Saints and pray that Almighty God will grant him long life, good health, prudence, and wisdom so that he will be a good shepherd to the flock (in both Dioceses of Chilaw and Kandy) entrusted to his care by the LORD.
Ad Multos Anos
in the Vineyard of the Lord and welcome to Kandy, dear Bishop Devasritha Valence Mendis!
Victor Silva (FCA, FCMA, MCIM – Retired)