Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka, does not like Christmas trees. According to The Tablet, the archbishop protested the construction of what will be the world’s tallest Christmas tree in Sri Lanka’s Colombo Park, calling it “wasteful.”
The record-setting tree, which will cost £64,000 ($81,305.60), will be constructed mainly of wire and mesh and will stand for ten days, beginning on Christmas Day. The project has been organized by 53-year-old former cricket star Arjuna Ranatunga, who captained the Sri Lankan cricket team in the 1990s and led them to victory in the 1996 Cricket World Cup.
The artistic endeavor was briefly delayed after Cardinal Ranjith objected to the cost of the display–saying that the funds should be spent, instead, on feeding the poor and providing scholarships to needy students. However, construction resumed after Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe intervened, persuading the archbishop that the project should move forward.
The archbishop’s opposition is consistent with complaints he’s registered in the past regarding Christmas trees. In 2015, Cardinal Ranjith urged Catholic priests not to put up Christmas trees, saying that they had “no religious significance.” And according to The Tablet:
In this month’s Colombo Archdiocesan newsletter, the editorial states that Christmas has become too commercialized and “distorted by Santa Claus.” It encourages the faithful to plant trees rather than uproot them for the festive season.
The kerfuffle is reminiscent of Jesus’ words to the disciples at Bethany in Matthew 26. Jesus’ followers were concerned that a woman had used expensive oils to anoint Jesus’ feet; but he reminded them that “The poor you will always have with you.” The Savior considered it worthwhile to spend a large sum of money to honor him.
As for the symbolism of the Christmas tree, in 2004, Pope John Paul II called the Christmas tree a symbol of Christ. This very ancient custom, he said, exalts the value of life, as in winter what is evergreen becomes a sign of undying life, and it reminds Christians of the “tree of life” of Genesis 2:9, an image of Christ, the supreme gift of God to humanity.
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In other depressing holiday news, a priest in Italy has announced that there will be no Christmas nativity scene erected this year at a local cemetery in Cremona, in northern Italy, because it “could be offensive to Muslims or atheists.” The creche has traditionally been displayed at the cemetery; but this year, Fr. Sante Braggiè worries it could anger people of other faiths or no faith whose relatives are buried there. According to Breitbart:
“A small corner of the cemetery is reserved for Muslim graves,” Fr Braggiè said. “A crib positioned within sight of them could be seen as a lack of respect for followers of other faiths, hurt the sensibilities of Muslims, as well as Indians and even atheists.”
Fr. Braggiè’s predecessor in Cremona, Fr. Oreste Mori, has been openly critical of the decision, saying, “Seriously? I can’t believe it!” He insisted, “We cannot renounce our culture and traditions. That would be an unpardonable weakness.”
“I am,” said Fr. Mori, “for the time being at least, in Italy, not Saudi Arabia.”
And Pietro Burgazzi, head of the regionalist political party Lega Nord, also opposed the priest’s decision. Burgazzi said,
“I hope the decision not to put up a crib was not ideological, but hearing the criticisms it seems that it was…. I want to stress the importance of the Christmas crib as a sign of Christian witness, which is always appreciated by the people of Cremona.”