SJE: Purposeful Living Story

S.J. is an intellectual par excellence, and yet, his simple, thoughtful gestures have worked wonders in improving his relations and forging bonds with both the erudite and the ordinary.

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Dr. S. J. Emmanuel celebrates his 86th Birth in 2020 with children of St. Theresa‘s Atchuvely [File Photo]

Dr. S.J. Emmanuel, an epitome of simple honesty, celebrated his ninetieth birthday recently. A Roman Catholic priest, Dr. S.J. Emmanuel, marked this significant milestone, reflecting on the various aspects of his long life that encompass the good, the challenging, and the uncertain. His journey has created a mosaic of the human being that he is and has become, revealing the essence of his true potential in body, soul (atma), and accomplishments.

S.J. is an intellectual par excellence, and yet, his simple, thoughtful gestures have worked wonders in improving his relations and forging bonds with both the erudite and the ordinary. Goal-oriented not for personal pride but for the well-being of ‘his people,’ his mission as a priest focused on comforting the downtrodden, the weak, and the forgotten Tamil people. He sought to help them obtain self-respect rather than pity. Viewed by many as a ‘firebrand,’ he lived and worked among the poor without ostentation.

A champion of the Tamil psyche, he has kept the fire of dignity alive in the hearts of his people, even in retirement and old age. His key strength lies in his ability ‘to be detached just enough from a situation to move forward.’ Taking creative risks, even in his advanced age, he embraced change, utilizing a wheelchair disability vehicle and refusing to be housebound at Bishop’s House, Jaffna.

‘Going about’ in nature and not being bedridden or overly dependent on caregivers is his hallmark at his current age. He has remained grounded and conscious of his role as a servant of God, never forgetting his modesty in his vocation. Despite being viewed by some as a ‘diehard’ Tamil Freedom Fighter, his classmates, who grew up with him, see S.J. as a serious ‘theologian’ capable of celebrating the unusual and non-traditional while maintaining a sense of responsibility for the causes he strongly believed in – ‘let my people go?’

Personal Observation: Affectionately known as S.J., he was among the top students at St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna, a brilliant graduate in Science at Peradeniya, and a Doctorate of Theology recipient at Urbana College, Rome. Serving as the Vicar General at the R.C. Diocese of Jaffna, he excelled in various capacities. As a student, a ‘Servant of God,’ and a human being, he became known for his simplicity, honesty, and strong character. Moving with the times, he lived a modest yet meaningful life in both youth and old age.

Having achieved much, he was expected to achieve even more, deserving accolades for maintaining dignity and self-respect in all stages of life. Although he never sought honours, he was honoured wherever he lived, including in Germany after retirement. May a thousand flowers bloom in his heart as he cherishes the memories of living a glorious life in the service of God and his people. Men like him will be hard to find for their courageous living.

Victor Cherubim

Victor Cherubim is a London-based writer and a frequent columnist of the Sri Lanka Guardian

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