Late Bishop Victor Gnanapragasam, OMI
A Tribute to the late His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. Victor Gnanapiragasam, OMI, who is a long-time colleague, companion and friend of S.M. Selvaratnam, OMI “From the age of twelve until we got ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 26, 1966, Victor and I grew together, studied together, played together, had fun together, travelled together, got scolded by the superiors together, and we laughed at the scolding together, and we got scolded again for laughing at the scolding. After ordination we parted our ways. Victor ministered in Trincomalee for a couple of years, and to my surprise, he opted to go as a missionary to Pakistan, where he spent the rest of his life until he breathed his last on Saturday the 12th 2020. Victor’s simplicity of life was his greatest gift. Did this come from his family or ‘was he born with-it?’ It needs little research. He never aspired for any position. He was contented as a parish priest serving his people as he got transferred from parish to parish in Pakistan. The scripture passage became alive in Victor’s life. “Well done, good and trustworthy slave you have been trustworthy in a few things , I will put you in charge of many things” (Mt.25; 21b). Yes, Victor was appointed by his then Superior General as the delegation Superior, and later, he was called to be the Bishop of Quetta. Even though, he was raised to the bishopric, power never got to his head. It’s amazing that he remained simple all his life.
A second quality in Victor was that he had a great capacity to relate to all people. As Jesus said of Nathnael, in Victor “there is no deceit in him”Jn.1:47.
A third gift of his was a knack for languages. Even as young seminarian, he learned to speak Sinhala very well. Later he learned Urdu, and adapted himself to the culture of Pakistan.
I would like to return to his simplicity of life. Religious commit themselves to three vows, namely Chastity, Obedience and Poverty. This word poverty is a bad word, for poverty is evil. Poverty is caused by exploitation of the poor by the rich, the powerful, the corrupt politicians and the business men and women. Poverty needs to be eradicated. We should not glorify poverty by committing ourselves to poverty. Today, I see the vow of poverty as a commitment to self-emptying. In this self-emptying process, simplicity of life emerges. Self-emptying can be seen as detachment from all our attachments.
I see in Victor’s life, this detachment when he left his family of origin, his friends, his country and went to a different country where he worked and died there. The Dominican mystic said: “Detachment is more important than love. For detachment gives freedom to love.”
Some of us come from good and cultured families, and when we enter the seminary, we are slowly and steadily introduced or should I say dragged into a new culture called clericalism. Clericalism is another evil in the priesthood. Some spiritual writers are of the opinion that the scandals in the priesthood are mainly due to this clericalism. Pope Francis said that clericalism needs to be eliminated in the priesthood. I do agree. I asked myself was Victor absorbed by clericalism? I do not know. However, I am sure that clericalism and simplicity of life cannot live together.
The master who invited Victor to be ïn charge of many things’ eventually on Dec. 12 of this year has called him to enter into the joy of the Master.”
Dear Bishop Victor, enjoy the gift of ‘being in God’ as you entered your Master’s joy.
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