Bishop Malcolm Ranjith-Sri Lanka’s gem to holy see

By Captain Shemal Fernando

Pope John Paul II has appointed Most Rev. Dr. Malcolm Ranjith, the Bishop of Ratnapura as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and President of the Pontifical Mission Societies. The Pontiff also has simultaneously elevated Bishop Malcolm Ranjith to the dignity of the high office of an Archbishop.

Bishop Malcolm Ranjith’s appointment to this post is a unique honour to Sri Lanka. This is the first time that a Sri Lankan has been bestowed such a prestigious appointment in the Holy See. Bishop Malcolm Ranjith at 53, is the youngest Bishop among the Bishops of Sri Lanka and also the current Secretary-General of the Catholic’s Bishops Conference in Sri Lanka.

A scholar, teacher, preacher and organiser Bishop Malcolm is essentially a simple priest at heart. His lectures, sermons and conferences always brought out the love he had for his Lord Jesus Christ. Bishop Malcolm’s love for his priesthood was infectious and many priests, religious and laity found in Bishop Malcolm a friend, a generous benefactor and an understanding counselor. He celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the Priestly Ordination on June 29, last year.

Bishop of Ratnapura

Ratnapura, the famed city of gems mentioned in Scheherazade’s story of Sinbad the Sailor, has been the source of most of Sri Lankan gems throughout the centuries, and the place mentioned still when talking of Sri Lankan gems. The soil of Ratnapura district and its environs is the richest in the land. Buried underneath its soil is a variety of gems which few other countries could boast of. The richness of its gem-studded soil made the prize possessions of the Sinhalese kings, and special court officers were placed in charge of gumming.

In 1996, The Holy See felt the need of craving out a separate diocese for Ratnapura which has almost 20,000 Catholics scattered in 21 parishes out of a population of 1.6 million. The Church’s shepherd to the new Diocese was Bishop Malcolm Ranjith whose election was hailed as a welcome spark to kindle the fire of missionary zeal in the hearts of the clergy and laity in his diocese. His Lordship was warmly welcomed as the first Bishop of Ratnapura on January 5, 1996 by an unprecedented crowd of Catholics and well wishes of other religions in a befitting manner.

Brith and early days

Born on November 15, 1947 as Patabedige Don Albert Malcolm Ranjith is the only son of late Patabedige Don William and Hettiarachchige Mary Winifreeda Perera. He was baptized at the Church of Our lady of Lourdes in Polgahawela and had his early education at De La Salle College, Mutwal where he came under the influence of the Brothers of the Christian schools.

It was during this period that he heard the voice of the Lord ever so softly whispering to him ‘Come, follow me’. Due to the sincerity and the persistence of their only son and the great love that the parents had for the priesthood, the young aspirant joined St. Aloysius’ Seminary, Borella in 1965. Within a few months he entered the National Seminary at Ampitiya and completed the three year course of Philosophy and then followed a period of regency as was the practice of that time.

Brother Malcolm

During the regency - a period of prayer, discernment and scrutiny whereby both the seminarian and his superiors determine whether the aspirants’ call is from the Lord, Bro. Malcolm Ranjith joined the Social Economic and Development Centre (SEDEC) of the Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka. At SEDEC young Bro. Malcolm joined a work force that went to the remote village of Kolonne in Ratnapura district to build homes for the homeless. The team was challenged on many sides but undaunted by obstacles the team completed its project, trusting in God for guidance and protection.


In September 1971, the then Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Cooray, omi sent Bro. Malcolm to the Propaganda College, in Rome to continue his studies to the priesthood. On June 29, 1975 Deacon Malcolm Ranjith was ordained priest by His Holiness Pope Paul VI in Rome. Thereafter he pursued his studies in Sacred Scripture and returned to Sri Lanka with a licentiate. It was during his sojourn in Rome that he mastered several languages both ancient and modern: Hebrew, Greek, French, German, Spanish and Italian.

Missionary work

On his return in 1978, he was appointed assistant parish priest of Pamunugama with responsibility for the mission of Kepungoda. He literally shook that sleepy, backward fishing village with its rocky beaches and was instrumental in supplying electricity, in building houses and modernising the area.

His missionary odyssey then took him through Daham Sevana (Kalutara) and the parishes of Payagala and Kalutara where he blazed a trail of total commitment to uplift the poverty stricken fisherfolk and built a vibrant Christian community. He coaxed govemment departments and tapped benefactors abroad for aid to build homes, buy mechanized boats and conscientize the people to improve their living conditions. "Seth Sararna" a poor relief centre, is his brain child and will remain a lasting monument to his commitment to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.

Pontifical Mission

In 1983, Fr. Malcolm was appointed the National Director of Pontifical Mission Aid Societies and under his enthusiastic direction a new and urgent sense of mission was created among the clergy and the people. He revived the Society of the Holy Childhood to inspire a spirit of missionary zeal in children and he was a driving force behind the children’s cartoon weekly "ASIRI" which has become a best seller today.

It was during his tenure that the National Bursary Fund came into existence. His dynamism was evident in the ability he displayed in obtaining support from all Sri Lankan Catholics for the formation of future priests.

Fr. Malcolm’s unflagging zeal was not confined to preaching, teaching and fund raising. As Diocesan co-ordinator for Human Development from 1984, he has taken bold initiatives in several areas like Housing, Fisheries, the FTZ, Muturajawala and various self employment projects. He campaigned like a fearless warrior against the Government’s move to shift the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to Trincomalee by organizing protest meetings and badgering Government officials to desist from using fishermen as scapegoats to fool world opinion.


On July 15, 1991 His Holiness Pope John Paul II appointed Fr. Malcolm as Auxiliary Bishop to His Grace the Archbishop of Colombo. In a ceremony which displayed the Church’s traditional splendour accumulated through the centuries, the Episcopal Ordination of the Rt. Rev. Msgr Malcolm Ranjith took place at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka, Tewatte on August 31, 1991.

Bishop Malcolm served as the Vicar General of the Archdiocese in charge of Parochial Apostolate and Lay Apostolates from 1991 to 1995.

Bishop Malcolm Ranjith who functioned as the Chairman of the Organising Committee for the Beatiffcation of Ven. Joseph Vaz and the visit of Pope John Paul II to Sri Lanka in last January certainly won the admiration of the citizens of Sri Lanka for a task meticulously executed.

It is the ardent hope of all Catholics in Sri Lanka that Bishop Malcolm Ranjith will incarnate himself fully in the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the men and women of Sri Lanka and open the door to Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world, the joy of every human heart and the fulfillment of all our hopes.