A Holy Mass organized by friends of Sri Lanka in Bethlehem in collaboration with the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Israel and the Representative Office of Sri Lanka in the State of Palestine was held on 22nd November at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born to bless President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the occasion of his 69th birthday.
The Honorary Consul of Sri Lanka in Bethlehem, Advocate Michelle Shomali in his welcome address stated that the Holy Mass is being held every year, following the establishment of the Representative Office of Sri Lanka in the State of Palestine in 2007, when Dr. T. Jayasinghe, the former Representative of Sri Lanka had initiated the Holy Mass.
He further said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited the State of Palestine on the invitation of President Mahmoud Abbas in January this year and participated in the Holy Mass held at the Church of Nativity.
Mr. Shomali elaborated on the close and cordial relations between Sri Lanka and Palestine. He also thanked President Rajapaksa for opening the Vocational Training Center in Betonia during his State visit to Palestine and also providing scholarships to Palestinian students over the last three years.
“The Government of Sri Lanka generously donated a sum of US dollar one million to Palestine as financial support during this year. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic country. It is home to many religions and languages. Despite all these differences each citizen has the same civil rights. It offers a great example of co-existence” Mr. Shomali added.
He also said "His Holiness Pope Francis will make a historic visit to Sri Lanka in January 2015 and let us pray for President Rajapaksa for his good health, happiness and personal wellbeing and for peace, progress and prosperity of the people of Sri Lanka."
Ambassador Sarath Wijesinghe, in his address to the audience stated that the event has been organised to celebrate the birthday of a great son of Sri Lanka who spearheaded the victory over terrorism and transforming Sri Lanka into a peaceful and stable country.
“Celebrating our President’s birthday in Bethlehem is of great significance. Jerusalem and Bethlehem are most venerated and respected places of worship for many religions and communities. We are very grateful to those who allowed us to organize the birthday celebration of our great leader who is currently the Chair-in-office of the Commonwealth. I also thank all the dignitaries including Mr. Michelle Shomali, Honorary Consul, the staff of the Sri Lanka Representative Office and the Embassy for organizing this Holy Mass”, the Ambassador further said.
He also recalled the services rendered by Dr. T. Jayasinghe, former Representative of Sri Lanka to the State of Palestine who initiated this event during his tenure of office.
The Mass was conducted by Rev. Father Eyad Twal, which was followed by a reception.
Along with the friends of Sri Lanka in Bethlehem, Ambassador Sarath Wijesinghe, Deputy Ambassador Major General K. J. Alwis, staff members of the Embassy and the Representative Office, members of Diplomatic Corps in the State of Palestine, Sri Lankan workers in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Bethlehem academics and tour agents participated in the Holy Mass.