- Fr. Jayekody has written the lyrics and music for some 1,000 songs that helped bridge the religious and ethnic divide in Sri Lankan society.
- His travel books are alerting his people to the beauty of their country, its sounds, history, the rhythm of the cropping season and their profusely flowering trees.
- His versatile creativity continued to enthuse with spiritual content and philosophical insight the everyday experiences of young and old.
- The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his enriching his country’s ‘world of song and music’ with spiritual and human rejoicing.”
Hymns, martial anthems, lullabies–songs since the beginning of recorded time have allowed man to express his deepest emotions. And a people’s culture often finds its most universal bond in shared singing. Probably no other activity can so elevate the spirit and the “humanness” of us all as that special awareness generated by music and song.
Among the ironies confronting science is the inability to explain, within the Darwinian concept of evolution, man’s acquisition of the ability to make and appreciate music. Never was man’s survival furthered by music on the long evolutionary path to homo sapiens. Yet, by some divine means man acquired this gift, so distinct from that of all other creatures. With the emergence of each civilization has come its particular expression, through its own instruments and voice, of a people’s yearnings, love and triumph over adversity.
Born 82 years ago into the family of a farmer and herbal physician in Dankotuwa, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), MARCELLINE JAYEKODY at the age of 10 chose the vocation of a Roman Catholic priest. While studying in the English-language St. Joseph’s College he became troubled by the rift between Western-oriented Christianity and Sri Lanka’s predominantly Sinhalese Buddhist culture. Following his ordination in the Oblate order on December 21, 1927, his concern over this rift deepened and finding bridges became his personal quest. His talents and life-view found new dimensions with studies at Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan in Bengal, India, where he added to competency on the violin, piano and organ, mastery of the sitar and tabla, and an appreciation of Eastern music. Travels to the Holy Land, Europe and America enlarged his “world view” of society.
In Sri Lanka Fr. JAYEKODY served for 21 years as a parish priest and has been a teacher off and on since then. In 1958 he launched the Faculty of Eastern Art at St. Peter’s College and 23 years later was still teaching as a visiting lecturer in music at St. Thomas’ College. Today he faithfully spends one day a week at Kala Lanka?the school for training young people from poor families in the performing arts of Sri Lanka? which he established and maintains at his own expense near Colombo.
In 1933 JAYEKODY began writing a newspaper column and composed his first hymn, “Sapiri Sama” (Full of Grace). His six lyrics, written in 1957 for the first Ceylonese feature film, Rekawa (Palm Line of Destiny), achieved national popularity and still are sung throughout the land.
In all, Fr. JAYEKODY has written the lyrics and music for some 1,000 songs. Although severe religious and ethnic divisions remain in Sri Lankan society, the songs he has given his people to sing have helped bridge these tragic differences. From lullabies to Christmas carols, they have been put on records and tapes and have added joy to daily life. Like his essays and poems, they have also become vehicles for enabling his people to understand the deeper significance of what they see in nature. His Muthu (Pearls) was judged the best book of poetry in 1980.
This silver-haired, singing priest, who stands tall and cheerfully exudes his faith, has helped through music and song to bring to every Sri Lankan an awareness of his heritage. His travel books are alerting his people to the beauty of their country, its sounds, history, the rhythm of the cropping season and their profusely flowering trees. Not neglecting his westernized church upbringing, his radio plays on the lives of Western composers bring a broader dimension to the culture.
Fr. JAYEKODY is a living demonstration that accepting a vocation in the priesthood need never be a retreat from life. His versatile creativity continues to enthuse with spiritual content and philosophical insight the everyday experiences of young and old. As his songs so gladly proclaim, man can take a few steps further along the path where God beckons?to realization of his better self.
In electing Fr. MARCELLINE JAYEKODY to receive the 1983 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the Board of Trustees recognizes his enriching his country’s “world of song and music” with spiritual and human rejoicing.
This colorful ceremony reminds me of a notable passage in the Bible: “The memory of a just man is forever,” it says.
There are men who live the way they wish and, as the Bible says again, “go the way of all flesh.” There are others who live by the rule of God and man and end up as those whom I dare to call saints. I have come to meet the memory of such a just man, Ramon Magsaysay, the late president of the Philippines.
There is a strange law working with these great men; the world does not leave them alone and they do not leave the world alone. Even after death, the world raises them to life, puts up memorials and monuments to them, writes about them, speaks of them. They become more alive than when alive. In turn they do not leave the world alone. They are alive to the problems of the times and keep on inspiring the world, each in his own way.
Here is Ramon Magsaysay searching for those whom he likes, discovering them, encouraging them, rewarding them. He is telling them to add more goodness to the world, imparting his nature to them. His hands have been long enough to stretch across the world and touch whom he may, including me, out and away in Sri Lanka. He has been pleased, through the Board of Trustees of the Foundation established in his memory to award to me the prize for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts for 1983. I am deeply grateful for this honor. I shall remember him in my prayers.
If, before I end, I may say something about myself, I wish to state that I did not work for remuneration or reward. There was an urge to work within me and I followed it. I wished to bring together my people who were sitting with a fence between them. I found a new way to do this; I wrote poetry?our people like poetry?and sang it. Song can break through fences, drop down from roofs, enter through keyholes. God blessed me. We are nearly together now.
Ramon Magsaysay, too, says let us be together. May his name be blessed forever. God bless you all.
Remembering his childhood in Sri Lanka at the turn of the century, Father MARCELLINE JAYEKODY wrote many years later:
“In our home, in moments of plenty or penury, my mother always spoke of ‘When Nattal [Christmas] comes…’ MY father just a village farmer with a house to live in and a small farm to work in smiled twirling his silver chain around his fingers.
He went to the farm. She went for firewood and water, I hanging on her. I may have been around four.
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