(Vatican Radio) Sri Lanka’s Catholic Bishops have sent special greetings to their Buddhist countrymen on the occasion of Vesak, Wednesday, May 10 this year. It is the most solemn festival of Buddhists which the United Nations adopted in 1999 and is celebrating for the first time in Sri Lanka this year. "Vesak", sometimes informally called "Buddha's Birthday", occurs on the full moon in the month of May, and commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha or Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, who lived sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries.
"It is fitting for the U.N. Day of Vesak to be held in Sri Lanka which is the predominant Theravada Buddhist country in the world and where four world religions are present," read a statement released on May 7 by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL). "Vesak is a festival of peace and light; may this Vesak bring peace to all people. We wish all our Buddhist brethren the fullest blessings," said the statement signed by CBCSL president, Bishop Winston Fernando of Badulla and conference secretary-general Bishop Valence Mendis of Chilaw.
The United Nations chief has also greeted the world’s Buddhists on Vesak, inviting all to “celebrate the wisdom of Lord Buddha by taking action for others with a strong spirit of solidarity." “Born a sheltered prince, Shakyamuni went out into the world to confront and overcome human suffering,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote in a message for Vesak Day observed at the UN on May 10, Wednesday.
Stressing that Buddha’s “message of compassion is timeless” Gutteres noted that “in our interconnected world, there can be no peace as long as others are in peril; no security as long as others suffer deprivation; no sustainable future until all members of our human family enjoy their human rights.” “On this Day of Vesak, let us celebrate the wisdom of Lord Buddha by taking action for others with a strong spirit of solidarity,” Gutteres urged.
For the first time, the UN’s International Day of Vesak is being hosted in Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist country. The UN International Day of Vesak has been held 11 times in Thailand and twice in Vietnam. The 14th edition is being held in Sri Lanka. Over 400 delegates from 100 countries are expected to participate in the May 12-14 UN International Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka whose theme is “Buddhist Teachings for Social Justice and Sustainable World Peace. Celebrations include an International Buddhist Symposium in Colombo, that is discussing important themes such as interreligious understanding, Buddhist teachings for social justice and sustainable world peace. Indian and Nepalese leaders are chief guests at the inaugural and closing ceremonies.
The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue also issued a message for Vesak on 22 April, inviting Buddhists and Christians to build peace by walking together in the path of non-violence. "Jesus Christ and the Buddha,” the message said “were promotors of nonviolence as well as peacemakers," said the Vatican’s letter.
"In spite of these noble teachings, many of our societies grapple with the impact of past and present wounds caused by violence and conflicts. This phenomenon includes domestic violence, as well as economic, social, cultural and psychological violence, and violence against the environment, our common home," it said.
Sri Lanka's 20.5 million people are approximately 70 percent Buddhist, 15 percent Hindu, 8 percent Christian and 7 percent Muslim.