Fr. Soloman Nirmalan is a Claretian missionary and has been serving as the Director of the Publication in Sri Lanka since 2012. Following is the interview that the Serendib had with Fr. Soloman Nirmalan, CMF.
1. Can you give us a brief depiction of the history of Claretian publication in Sri Lanka?
Our religious Congregation—Claretian Missionaries—has been in the country only for the past 25 years. And the services rendered to the Sri Lankan Church through the ministry of the Word in Sri Lanka has been an important apostolic priority since our very beginning on the soil of the country. We are not only trendsetters in this ministry but the only religious congregation involved substantially with two additional outlets in the northern (Jaffna) and central (Kandy) parts of Sri Lanka. We had humble origins just like the origins of the Claretian Congregation in Spain back in 1849. We began in a small room with some books displayed for sale. In the same building was also the formation program that began to receive aspirants. Welisara goes down in the history of Lanka’s Claretians as the place where the first canonical community of the Claretians started. Though quite far from the city of Colombo, Welisara began to be a place frequented by priests, nuns, lay faithful and even bishops because of the “media ministry of the gospel” taking place there. We are doing this ministry for the last 22 years in our land.
2. How far the Claretian publication has been recognized in Sri Lanka?
We, the Claretians, are well known because of the bible Diary and all the other religious books that we distribute and publish. Many don’t know about the congregation, but when we say that we are the missionaries who print the bible diary, then they recognize us. Since we are the only religious congregation involved in this ministry we are known. It was the tireless work of all our missionaries to make of this publication a remarkable service in all the dioceses. I cannot also say that we are so much known among the people. The priests and religious know us well but the faithful don’t know about the service that we do. It is also one of our drawbacks that we did not popularize our service to the faithful. I can say that out of the 7% Catholics in our country 2% of the faithful know us as Claretian Publications.
3. What are the main ministries you undertake at present?
The main projects of the publication are evangelizing and spreading the Word of God. We for the moment are engaged in the Publishing of bible diaries. We also had the Bible study (correspondence course) programme under the publications; now it is done by the biblical ministry. All these years we have been the distributors of the books that we purchase from different publishers of different countries. Now slowly we are stepping into the Publishing world with the help of many. We see that need in our country. One of our purposes of the Publications would be to encourage the local authors of the country. We see that we depend on other countries, and we also don’t see that many people involved here in writing and publishing. The Catholic literature in local languages is very poor. We want to encourage all the writers to come up with Catholic, social, psychological writings. We have published a couple of books and we also have released some audio materials like hymns, prayers, sermons, reflections, etc. We also go for book sales to different parishes, schools and institutions. We understand that books, especially the Catholic books are not the priority of the people, and we can’t wait till they come to us but as our founder said, “if you cannot send a missionary to one place, send a book and that book will do the mission that was supposed to be done by the missionary”. In that way we go to the people and make ourselves known, give them the opportunity of experiencing newness through the books. We are also undertake printing of booklets, cards, books and magazines. We also have a unit for design and artwork: we design personalized Christmas cards, birthday cards, prayer cards, souvenirs, etc.
4. In what way do you believe this mission would influence the lives of the people?
Our founder St. Anthony Mary Claret believed as many of the saints and scholars believed that reading makes the person complete. In his time he spent a reasonable amount of time in writing and distributing books and booklets. He firmly believed that this act can bring a bigger change in the life and attitude of the people. We too are convinced of this and we follow the dream of our founder in engaging in this mission. We see that the present generation is not so much keen in reading and always run behind the technology. Knowledge had to be passed on to people and today we see that harmful thoughts are passed for free in the mode of free books. People are not motivated to buy books and they feel that it is really a useless expense. Today we see that the parents have shifted the gift system. When we think of a gift we always see an attractive or useful thing in a materialistic sense. That’s what the media had furnished our minds. No child will like to have a book for his/her special day. The values of the Kingdom of God had to be affirmed since the people are confused. We see also that people lose trust in each other because of the bad experiences that they have with some individuals, which many suffer without sharing and receiving directions from others, since they had the experience of betrayal. I feel that a book can cure a person and give her/him hope, courage, faith, love and the direction for her life. Many people call us and say that the Bible Diary keeps them always walking with the Word of God.
5. How far have you been successful in reaching out to the people through this ministry?
As I told you before we are successful in reaching the people (2% of the Catholics), and we feel the need to work hard for reaching more people. Most of them don’t know about our ministry. Still there are people who don’t know the Bible Diary. Our efforts of various means to reach out to people are always in progress. We also see the need to branch out to various dioceses because in some dioceses the people don’t have the access to buy Catholic books. We are working hard for that and we also see that there are so many challenges which we may have to face.
6. Could you enumerate some difficulties you face at present in this mission?
1. There are many challenges that we face in this ministry. One of them is the unhealthy competition caused by some of the local vendors who bring down small quantities and have a problem with the price of the book. We used to pay the taxes and we have our expenses of mission partners and so on. Many misunderstand that we profit for ourselves by doing this ministry. Our focus is not earning money but doing the ministry.
2. In the project of the Bible Dairy we see that we have competition. In the beginning stages we got down bible diaries from various countries. And later we came to the realization that we have to make the Word of God speak to the lives in our circumstances, so we started printing in our country itself. This also a praxis theology and the need of the time. We see that many are bringing down Bible Diaries from other countries for a cheaper price. And we always experience a rejection because of the cheaper price. We see that our effort to encourage the local authors will not stop merely because of this factor. We still print the Word of God in a quality manner and persevere in this project.
3. There are economical struggles too in this ministry, like collecting debts, a lack funds for new printings and projects, the way of payment to the foreign Publishers, the effects of exchange rates in buying and selling, etc.
7. Last of all, what are the future plans listed?
We have future plans in the line of printing:
1. The Liturgical Commission of Sri Lanka requested us to print the Book of Gospels and the pocket missal for the priests and the laity.
2. We are planning to have a moving library from which the parishioners can benefit. Having a vehicle and going to different parishes, having different programs for the children and youngsters, and making the books available for them to read as well as to buy.
3. We are also thinking about a Catholic library where people can come and read. We see that many readers don’t have the ability to buy books for an expensive price. To encourage the readers we are planning to have a place.
4. We are planning to publish a comic series of the bible for the Children.