Speech at event to honor Rev. Dr. Seemanpillai Joseph Emmanuel, Catholic priest and President, Global Tamil Forum, in New Jersey, USA during the Annual General Meetings of Ilankai Tamil Sangam & US Tamil Political Action Council
Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you all for coming today, to celebrate the life of service to humanity of Father Emmanuel, whom we warmly call Father.
Albert Einstein said, “The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.” In one word, Father has been a man who gave. He has given much to his work, as a priest and a community worker. That is why, ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here this evening to celebrate the life of Father. Here is a life that demands notice, a life that exemplifies brilliance, a life that inspires emulation, a life that burns so that others’ paths are lit.
Our journey paths crossed a few years ago, and in the brief years that I have been privileged to know him, he has played his part exceedingly well. He has resembled no one; nor has he sought to emulate anyone. He has not been one of the “joyous and merry.” But he has been one who made great demands – first of himself and therefore also of others. He is a strategic thinker, a visionary who is brilliant, innovative and creative. As such, he has contributed much to the development of the diaspora scene. He generously has given us his knowledge, expertise and his skills. Being with him has been like living with Plato or Socrates and conversations with him are always a catalogue of questions, but never a series of smooth thoughts. The spirit of inquiry burns brightly in him even at this tender age of 80.
Two themes predominate Father’s life. His professional work as a priest and a theologian and his work in the community, and he has been happy working in both, especially when working to help and encourage others. The Tamil community will always be grateful for his indefatigable nature and his single minded attitude in pursuing people in power and informing them of the condition of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
It was Father, who after those fateful days of 2009, persuaded people like me living in Europe, that the evil of oppression of the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka had to be addressed as an unacceptable scourge of the global polity.
It was Father, who convinced me and urged a large section of our people, that it was our sacred duty to help our fellow brothers and sisters in Ealam. And it was Father, who set out for us the obligations that we all have a duty to meet, obligations that arise from
- Our social origins
- Our mutual solidarity
- The claims of justice
- And universal charity
And even amidst evil, it was Father, who instilled in us by his unfailing efforts an even greater sense of our obligations to each other and gave us the confidence and the commitment, the might and the means, to lift the scar of injustice and hopelessness from the Tamil’s soul. You saw Father in action yesterday counselling us to be tolerant towards each other, and watching us behave though he was struggling to keep his eyes open.
In his book ‘The Power of Myth’ Joseph Campbell describes a hero as someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than him or herself.
And today I want to honour the legacy of Father.
For just as surely as some of our greatest heroes of history, Father’s love of his people, his moral anger at their oppression, his sense of duty to relieve them from a life of subjugation, has led him to serve a great cause, stand for the highest ideals and try to change the world for good. And let me as a fellow member of Global Tamil Forum salute Father, whom I and a large number of Tamil speaking people admire so much for his leadership of GTF from those dark days of 2009, and for his crucial, catalytic role in bringing the lobbying campaign together. No effort is too large for Father, even at his ripe old age of 80. Be assured that Father will be up early, and on the road tomorrow to Washington to meet those in power on Monday to plead on behalf of the people in his homeland.
The reward he seeks, for this, is not recognition nor status nor titles nor money but that the coming generations of Tamil people in his homeland enjoy a better life thanks to his courageous work. We are inspired, first by the idealism and tireless strength of Father, driven forward by his band of comrades to the calls of justice and the urgent cries of the excluded. Father will not accept this event as a recognition of the service he has done to the community, but an affirmation that his work is not yet done, and the work will go on until we achieve our aim – in the words of Isaiah: to undo the heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free.
Father set out to create a coalition of justice for the Tamil speaking people. This coalition for justice, with its worldwide reach, has become itself living proof of the patient work of Father, that we are not individuals, powerless but together have power. We are part of a network of people mutually bound together, all of us, in one moral universe strong enough to change things for the benefit of our wretched people.
The international community plays a key role in many conflict situations. Father has travelled far and wide. Though unhappily exiled in Europe, he traveled to the plush offices in America, through the perilous streets of Africa and to the beaches of Australasia taking his message of the plight of the Tamil people around the globe. In that endeavour he has brought a lot of people together in support of his convictions.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are extremely lucky that we have in our midst Father Emmanuel, as you saw him in action yesterday, counselling tolerance towards each other, with a clear mind – when the need is even more urgent and our responsibilities even more clear; and even when the path ahead difficult, hard and long encouraging us not to lose hope, but guiding us with courage in our shared resolve to find the will to act.
With his belief in the famous saying of more than one hundred years old – that the arc of the moral universe is long but it does bend towards justice, he urges us on to continue in our journey for justice.
Father is always optimistic that we will succeed in restoring the democratic rights of the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka.
Optimistic because he believes that across the world there are millions of people of conscience who believe in something bigger than themselves.
Optimistic because our interdependent world means that millions now feel acutely, what they once regarded as distant; the pain of all those in suffering, and they understand that by the strong helping the weak, all of us become stronger.
What drives Father forward are not the achievements we can point to, important as they are, but the gains still to be made, the potential still unrealized, the vision still unfulfilled, the future yet to be born, the world we can and must become, the causes yet unwon.
Father, we are grateful that you have been with us all this time arguing, debating, counselling and guiding us and steering us forward. We hope that you will continue to guide us for many more years to come.
Thank You, Father!
Pictures from Father’s youth, courtesy ‘Sri Lanka Guardian,’ June 4, 2014