ROME – Sri Lanka’s top Catholic prelate has urged the country’s political leaders to make good on their promise to resign this week, and he’s voiced hope that a new government will be able to bring the South Asian nation out of its current woes.

Speaking to Crux about the unrest that led Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to announce their resignations Saturday, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo said he thought “it was a good thing that the crowds descended on the city.”

“They made their leadership understand that they don’t have any confidence in them, and therefore the leadership was forced to make a decision” and announce their intention to step down, he said.

However, Ranjith voiced doubt that Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe will follow through on that promise, saying “the leadership in this country has a bad record of promises being kept, so we are all waiting anxiously to see whether he, the president, will keep his promise to resign.”

“We are skeptics of our political leaders and their promises,” he said.

For the past few years Sri Lanka has been in the midst of a massive economic and political crisis that has had a crippling effect on the economy and the population, with poverty rates and inflation soaring as people struggle to afford basic necessities such as food and fuel, and essential medicines become increasingly scarce.

With its economy in a complete state of collapse, Sri Lanka has become dependent on aid from India and other countries as its political leadership has attempted to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

The crisis has caused political turmoil and mass protests from citizens, who on Saturday, the most chaotic day yet in months of unrest, stormed the residences of both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe, setting fire to one of the buildings.

In response to the chaos, both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe announced their resignations, with Rajapaksa pledging to step down Wednesday and Wickremesinghe saying he would resign when a new government is formed.

With Sri Lanka’s decline worse than most financial crises in the developing world, Ranjith for months has spoken out against corruption and called for the resignation of the country’s political leadership, urging them to take responsibility for the current situation.

In terms of what comes next, Ranjith said that for the people to trust any potential new government that’s formed, “they must see that effective steps are taken to get over the economic crisis.”

“The economic crisis in Sri Lanka has resulted not only from the COVID disaster, but also from a series of decisions, unfortunate decisions, made by the president and his government,” Ranjith said, saying leaders in the banking sector, especially, “have made serious mistakes and as a result, our foreign reserves have gone down to zero, and our gold reserves have reduced drastically.”

Sri Lanka can no longer afford basic services such as gas and electricity, and unemployment rates have skyrocketed, he said, insisting that “all this has happened due to mismanagement, bad planning, bad decisions.”

“We are waiting so new people will take the bull by the horns and make the necessary decisions,” he said.

In the midst of the country’s crisis, Ranjith said the Catholic Church has been on the frontlines in providing support to those most in need, operating largely through its diocesan Caritas network, with some help from international Caritas branches.

Through Caritas, the church in Sri Lanka has arranged programs “to identify the most effected families in the areas of our dioceses, and to organize immediate support for sustenance, as well as short-term support for self-help programs in order to generate food and other items they need,” Ranjith said.

One area of extreme necessity is medicine and health care, he said, noting that currently, “many hospitals have no medicine, and they have to be imported from overseas.”

“We need support from overseas, governments and individual organizations to purchase some of the medicines necessary for our people, especially our children, and to send it down to Sri Lanka as donations,” he said, and appealed to the international community to get involved.

As things move forward, Ranjith said the Catholic Church and leaders from other religious communities – including Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims – are working together to provide relief to the population, and they plan to form a close relationship to any new government that is formed “in order to keep social acceptance and social peace.”

“They will need the support of religious groups, so they will certainly approach us on many issues, and we are willing to cooperate with them as much as possible, as long as they look into the welfare and wellbeing of our people, the general people,” he said.

Ranjith, who has been among the most vocal advocates seeking answers to who was behind the 2019 Easter bombings that killed some 270 people in three hotels and three churches throughout the country, said he will continue to press for progress in identifying those responsible.

Saying there have been certain indications that perhaps some within the government were in some way involved in the attacks, Ranjith said the Catholic community wants “further investigations to be conducted on that angle of the story.”

“Until we are sure of what really happened, we cannot be satisfied. We want a new government to help us understand what really happened on that Easter Sunday,” he said.

“Our struggle will go on, and whoever comes will have to deal with it because even the whole country is very interested in knowing that,” Ranjith said, adding that he is hopeful a new government will be more forthcoming, “because we have to struggle. We won’t get it free on a plate, but we will struggle for it, and we will do it with whoever comes to power.”

Pope Francis in his Sunday Angelus address voiced his closeness to the people of Sri Lanka amid the current turmoil, saying they “continue to suffer the effects of political and economic instability.”

“Together with the bishops of the country, I renew my appeal for peace and implore those with authority not to ignore the cry of the poor and the needs of the people,” he said.

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