SSPX News Archive
Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka Church Sacked and Burned
Investigation Looking Into Extremist Groups

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, JULY 21, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Sri Lankan Catholics are alarmed after a church in the Diocese of Anuradhapura was sacked in broad daylight and set on fire.

Preliminary police investigations into the Saturday attack point to fanatic Buddhist extremist groups, which are spreading intolerance and anti-Christian sentiments throughout the island nation, said the Holy See's missionary agency Fides.

As anti-Christian feelings spread, Parliament is due shortly to discuss two bills which would ban religious conversions, thus increasing religious unrest.

Bishop Norbert Andradi of Anuradhapura confirmed the attack and destruction of Holy Cross Church in the town of Pulasthigama.

"This is the first time a church in our diocese is attacked and we are deeply shocked," the bishop said Wednesday. "People are afraid and wonder what reason was behind the aggression."

He continued: "The attack happened in broad daylight. The only people in the church at the time were two Catholic boys who had stopped to say a prayer. Suddenly a group of hooded men broke into the church and began to smash everything, including the altar and crucifix. The two boys were badly beaten but managed to escape.

"When the criminals had completed their work of destruction, they set fire to the building. Local Catholic families rushed to put out the fire with water but it was too late. Charred ruins were all that was left of the church."

Signs of solidarity

With regard to the motive behind the attack, Bishop Andradi told Fides: "We fail to understand the reason, except that of spreading anti-Christian sentiments connected with the question of conversions. In other parts of Sri Lanka, Protestant churches have been attacked, but it is nearly always the Catholic community which suffers most from violence."

The bishop added he had written letters of protest to the civil authorities. He said that local Buddhist leaders who condemned the attack replied with messages of solidarity.

The Anuradhapura Diocese has a population of 1.4 million, mainly Buddhists. There are about 12,500 Catholics.

Once the capital of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is traditionally known as the place where Buddha had "three illuminations," and is one of the most important holy places for Buddhists in Southeast Asia.
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Post-Tsunami Aid in Sri Lanka Has a Downside
Relocations Might Disrupt Fishing Communities

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, JAN. 31, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A government plan for the post-tsunami replacement of houses that were close to the coast might cause serious difficulties for fishing communities and for the local Church, say observers.

Fishermen make up the sector hardest-hit by the Dec. 26 tsunami that struck in Asia and Africa.

In Sri Lanka, the authorities' decision to remove the houses from the coast "has caused protests because most fishermen are used to living right by the sea," said Father Sunil de Silva, secretary of Colombo Archbishop Oswald Gomis, according to AsiaNews.

"The Church and the opposition are protesting because such a restriction would make fishermen helpless," said the priest.

The government's restriction will weaken the position of the Church itself because, "around one-third of fishermen are Catholics, and we are concerned that Catholic communities will be dispersed if this rule is implemented, and the strength of the Church would be diminished," explained Father de Silva.

Human rights activists already have criticized the government's reconstruction plans, saying that the proposals do not take into considerations the needs of the people for whom they are intended.

Father de Silva added that the authorities want to build four-story concrete blocks but that "this is not what people want."

"I don't think the government is ignoring survivors' needs and wishes, but it is time for it and the people to reach a consensus," he said. However, "the government has yet to begin reconstruction. People have been waiting and waiting, well aware it will take time to build houses."

The Catholic Church, meanwhile, continues with its rehabilitation projects. Houses are being rebuilt or repaired and, in some areas, people have been resettled. According to the secretary of Colombo's archbishop, the top priorities are to help fishermen and to rebuild schools.

A month after the tragedy, the spirit of solidarity shown by tsunami survivors remains strong, regardless of their ethnic group or religion, and the bulk of Church aid is going East where the need is greatest, the priest said.

Caritas-Sri Lanka and other institutions of the Church have decided to establish in each diocese of the affected areas a team of experts in charge of coordinating the post-emergency plans.

In a statement to ZENIT last Friday, Caritas explained that this is the way it is responding to the request made to humanitarian organizations of the Church by the president of the country's episcopal conference, Bishop Joseph Vianney Fernando, during a recent meeting in Colombo.

The meeting was attended by the local Caritas director, Damian Fernando; the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Mario Zenari; and experts of several agencies of the Caritas international network.

At the meeting it was learned that in Sri Lanka alone, the tsunami killed more than 30,000 people and destroyed 80,000 houses and seriously damaged another 40,000. About 5,500 people are listed as missing.
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In Sri Lanka, It's Fishing Communities First

ROME, JAN. 11, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Priority aid in Sri Lanka is being given to fishing communities in the wake of the deadly tsunami.

Assessments made by the diocesan Caritas of Galle, in the coastal belt between Benota and Hambanthota, reveal that the damage is dramatic.

About 80% of Sri Lanka's coastal fishing fleet, representing some 23,000 vessels, was destroyed by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

Fishermen said that each one of them will need $2,000 to $6,500 to acquire a small vessel and fishing equipment. Such aid would guarantee each family a minimum subsistence income.

At the same time, Caritas-Sri Lanka is implementing specific aid programs for the replacement of the fishing fleet. Fishing communities are being sheltered in churches in the affected areas.

Caritas is also distributing school material to children, who returned to the classroom Monday, and help-in-kind made available by private donors.
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ASIAN TSUNAMI WAS PRECEDED BY PROPHECY AND FOLLOWED BY REPORTS OF MIRACLES

In the gloom -- and it is gloom -- come the accounts of miracles. A missionary escaping the tsunami with thirty students calls out the Name of Jesus as a wave sweeps into a lagoon and the wave seems to halt. This in Navalady, Sri Lanka.

There is also the young American couple at a beach in southern Thailand. Clinging to a jungle gym under a thatched roof in a play area, the man shouted prayers amid the flooding. The thatched roof lodged against the jungle gym, and they were sheltered as the last, biggest wave swept ten feet over their heads -- without touching them! "We miraculously didn't get hit," said Patrick Green.

And then there is the Marian apparition shrine of Vailankanni in India. It had been established after a peasant boy saw the Blessed Mother there in the 1500s. During the following century, a group of Portuguese sailors got caught in a Bay of Bengal storm and pleaded with her as Mary of the Sea. The sea calmed during what was probably a cyclone and they landed at Vailankanni on September 8 -- feast of her nativity -- replacing a chapel with a stone building.

During the recent tsunami, Mary calmed the seas there once more. In a December 29 statement, basilica officials noted that about 2,000 pilgrims attending Mass were "miraculously saved" when the surging waves of the historic tsunami stopped at the gates of the shrine compound, which is near a devastated beach.

The waves -- rising as high as forty feet -- smashed hotels and homes on the same elevation


Sri Lanka Eyes Anti-Conversion Law

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, JAN. 1, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Sri Lanka hopes to introduce a law that will limit conversions from one religion to another, the country's Minister of Religious Affairs announced.

The Colombo government will promote a legislative disposition directed to those who use a variety of "incentives" to convince others to change their religion.

"More than 7,000 Hindus, from the northeast and central provinces of Sri Lanka, have converted to Christianity in the past 10 years," Minister of Religious Affairs Thiagarajah Maheswaran, a Hindu, told the press during a visit to Madras, India.

Maheswaran added: "The conversions have grown in recent months, since international humanitarian agencies committed to the reconstruction of the country have begun to construct churches."

Sri Lanka has been devastated by devastated by two decades of conflict between the government and the rebel Tamil Tigers.

In recent days the question of conversions has come to the fore again with the death of a Buddhist monk who led the struggle against religious conversions from Buddhism to Christianity, according to the Missionary Service News Agency.

According to doctors, Venerable Gangodavila Soma Thera died in Russia in early December following a heart attack. However, some Buddhists blame Christians for his death, thus fueling the tensions between the two communities.

About 70% of Sri Lanka's 20 million inhabitants are Buddhist; 15% are Hindu, 8% Christian (of the latter 6.7% is Catholic) and 7% Muslim.


Archbishop Pleads for Help in Flood-Stricken Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, MAY 28, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo made an urgent appeal to the faithful of the island to aid Sri Lankan populations stricken by the worst flooding in half a century.

About 265 people died from the last week's floods and landslides that swept away villages in the south and that hit low-lying tea estates and rice fields, damaging tea factories and uprooting rubber trees.

The archbishop's appeal, published by Vatican Radio, said that food and drinking water are needed, and that homes will have to be rebuilt when the waters subside.

Archbishop Gomis called on priests to involve the greatest possible number of faithful in "this moment of need." Several parishes have already responded by organizing the collection of building materials.

Caritas and other Catholic agencies have allocated $14,000 for the relief effort.

NEGOTIATIONS RESUME, OUR LADY OF MADHU IS A PILGRIM OF PEACE

Colombo (Fides) – Negotiations will resume and the Catholic Church on the island, overjoyed, puts the peace process in the hands of Our Lady of Madhu, loved by Sinhalese and Tamils alike. In the civil war a new round of negotiations is about to begin. On December 12 the government said it was ready to talk with the Tamil separatist guerillas. The talks will focus on: a cessation of the hostilities and terrorist killings, the resolution of the Tamil people’s problems and a speedy solution to the problem of those displaced by war. Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers Tamil Eelam (LTTE), asked for a lifting of the embargo on rebel controlled areas, however the government said it could be part of the talks but it would not take place before any negotiations begin.

In the meantime in the Vanni region, at the heart of the combat zone, food and medicine are scarce, and many are dying of malaria and other diseases. Catholic humanitarian workers say food is used as a weapon by both sides; "The army uses it to push civilians into government controlled areas, the rebels use it to recruit young men and boys to fight."

The Catholic Bishops voiced satisfaction that the government has accepted to start a new round of peace talks with the LTTE and they say that a solution to the conflict "must be within the framework of the country’s territorial unity and integrity". In a statement sent to Fides the Bishops say that "only through negotiation can a just and lasting peace be achieved". They urge the parties in conflict "to take steps to create a climate of mutual good will and trust, though a de-escalation of offensive actions and an easing off of the different forms of restrictions placed on the people, because of the conflict." They call on everyone to give spiritual support to peace initiatives and encourage Catholics to pray more intensely for peace.

The Bishops have entrusted the process of national reconciliation to the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Madhu. For the first time in 450 years of the history of the shrine of Madhu, the miraculous statue is to be taken to the southern areas of Sri Lanka. The peace pilgrimage, announced by Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, is expected to take place in March 2001. The greatly revered statue of Our Lady of Madhu will be carried to the dioceses of Chilaw, Colombo, Kurunegala and Anuradhapura to encourage prayers and activity for peace. Along the route several solemn prayer services and peace rallies will be organized. A special day of prayer will be held in Colombo with pilgrims from other areas. Referring to the importance of bringing the miraculous Statue to the southern areas, the Bishops’ statement said: "The Catholic community has from time immemorial had a great devotion to Our Lady of Madhu at whose shrine Sinhalese and Tamils have always prayed in an atmosphere of oneness and brotherhood."

In the Autumn of 1999 more than 10,000 refugees were camped for security around the Shrine area, always regarded as a "de militarized zone". But on November 20, 1999 the area was shelled: 44 persons were killed, more than 60 injured in an attack for which each side gave the other the blame. The LTTE wants an independent state for the Tamil minority. In 17 years of civil war at least 60,000 people have died. (22/12/2000)God bless.

IN DEFENSE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

by Father Fabrice Loschi, SSPX

(This article appeared in full in the Sri Lankan newspaper “The Island”, on Wednesday, May 10th, 2000, p.18. It was prompted by some accusations, which followed the Pope’s ‘act of forgiveness’ of March 12, 2000)

Thanks to the immensely popular "Island" newspaper, which I read every day, I am privileged to be able to answer the many accusations leveled against the Catholic Church, and, particularly to reply to the article written by Mr. Aryatilake ("The Island" of 26.04.2000) which deals with matters of the highest interest. I appreciate Mr.Aryalake's contribution to what I think to be an honest search for the truth. Indeed, manifestation of the truth must be the only aim of our reading and writing.

Mr. Aryatilake invites us to read the book of John Cornwell, "Hitler's Pope" on Pope Pius XII’s attitude during World War II. Mr. Cornwell's book has been promoted by a massive international blitz. It claims to tell "the secret history of Pius XII", and to show that he went so far as to observe "silence" about the genocide perpetrated against the Jews during World War II. Simultaneously translated into many languages in several countries, this book is not a historical work but is a weapon in the hands of those who are attempting to block the beatification of Pope Pius XII, and, the same time, to oblige the Church to repent yet again for its so-called "silence" about the genocide of the Jews.

It is true that this author cannot be reproached for not consulting the archives of Pope Pius XII's pontificate (1939-1958). These are still not open to researchers. However, on the subject which forms the principle concern of the book, that is, Pope Pius XII's attitude towards Nazi Germany, an exhaustive series of documents has been available since 1965: "Acts and Documents of the Holy See during the Second World War", in 12 volumes, published in French by the Vatican. Cornwell knows of the existence of these documents but scarcely uses them. Perhaps it was a lack of mastery of the French language that led him to neglect this excellent primary source.

In any case, by not exploring "Acts and Documents”, as he should have, he passed by information essential to the question he examines. He overlooks, for instance the letters addressed by Pope Pius XII to the German bishops between 1939 and 1945. In these letters he would have found what was the actual frame of mind of Pope Pies XII, anxious to act in a manner that would protect the Jews while still not aggravating the life and death situation faced by German Catholics.

In general, the historical affirmations of Cornwell are often questionable. How can Cornwell, or anyone for that matter with a minimum of theological and historical culture, assert as he does that "The ideology of papal primacy, as we have known it within living memory, is an invention of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries"? The proof that Christ installed St. Peter head of his Church is found in marry passages of the New Testament and in many writings of the Fathers of the Church like St. Ignatius of Antioch who wrote in the year 107 A. D. in his letter to the Roman Church that the bishop of Rome is presiding over all the Churches. On the Cross, Jesus Christ created a Church and after his resurrection gave her the task of leading people to Heaven and appointed St. Peter as her first Pope and whose present successor is Pope John Paul II.

Fr. Pierre Blais, S.J., the world-renowned historical scholar, co-editor of "Acts and Documents", said of Cornwell's book, "The announcement of an ‘exceptional book' that is supposed to be based on ‘unedited documents' is an immense fraud that it behooves us to expose".

Cornwell levels the accusation of anti-Semitism against Pope Pius XII when he was still Cardinal Pacelli, saying that he didn't willingly agree with "Mit brennender sorge" (1937), the encyclical letter by which Pope Pius XI condemned the Nazi doctrine. Cornwell wants to make people believe that Cardinal Pacelli, then the Pope's Secretary of State, had no choice but to play the part, so to speak, at the request of the German bishops who had solicited the Pope's intervention on the subject. Cornwell says: "Pacelli had no choice but to involve the Holy Father". Where did Cornwell find the trace of this reticence? He does not say, and he affirms it without proof. On the contrary, everyone knows that Cardinal Pacelli had a major role in drafting the encyclical letter.

Cornwell does not say that the interventions by the nuncio in Germany to facilitate the emigration of the Jews, and in other countries of Europe (Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Croatia) to try and prevent the deportations, were made with the approval of the Holy See, hence of the Pope. The abundant correspondence exchanged proves it.

Cornwell does not cite the declaration Pope Pius XII made before the Sacred College of Cardinals (June 2, 1943), in which the Pope said that he joined "the anxious supplications of all those who, by reason of their nationality or their race, are overwhelmed by the greatest trials and acute sufferings, and sometimes are even destined, without their own fault, to extermination." This allocution is a fundamental document for understanding the attitude of Pope Plus XII between 1939 and 1945. In it, he explained that his protest could not be any stronger "because we must be careful not to harm those who we want to save."

Fr. Dezza, who would later become the confessor of Pope Paul VI; told of an audience he had with Pope Pius XII, when, during the war, he was preaching a retreat at the Vatican:

I had a long audience during which the Pope spoke to me about Nazi atrocities in Germany and in other countries. He expressed his pain, his anguish, because, he told me, "People are deploring the Pope's silence, but the Pope cannot speak. If he spoke, it would be worse." He told me that recently he had sent three letters in which he deplored the Nazi's atrocities: one to the man he called "the heroic Archbishop of Krakow," the future cardinal Sapieha, and the others to two Polish bishops. 'They replied by thanking me; " he said, "but by adding that they could, not publish the letter because it would aggravate the situation.”

In Conclusion, only one testimonial in favor of Pope Pius XII and his actions in favor of the Jews will be cited here, although many more could be. It comes from the Jewish historian Pinchas E. Lapide. At the conclusion of his extensive research in the vast archives of Jerusalem dedicated to the Holocaust, he published, in 1967, a book called "The last three Popes and the Jews." He claims that during the war, the Holy See did more for the Jews than any other humanitarian organization, including the Red Cross. He estimates that 860,000 were saved, directly or indirectly, by Pope Pins XII.

Let's consider now the Inquisition.

There is no precise date of the foundation of the Inquisition, but it may safely be stated that it came into being during the first six years of the pontificate of Pope Gregory IX (between 1227 and 1233). Its origin is not found in Spain, but in France.

Before going further, let us remember that the true office of an historian is not to judge facts and conditions, but to study and understand them in their natural course and connection.

It is difficult for the modem mind to understand why such an institution had been created. We must remember that at that time, Religion and State were closely united and in such a society, new religious beliefs brought also political consequences. Many of the heresiarchs were also disturbers of the social order. To condemn heretics was a religious matter, but pertained also to the safeguarding of the country's political stability in a world so easily troubled by violence and wars. To be brief, let's consider only the example of the AIbigensians.

According to the Albigensians, two eternal principles divided the universe. The good had created the world of the spirits, and the bad the material world. Man was at the junction of the two principles. He was a fallen angel imprisoned in a body. The material world being intrinsically bad, Albigensian ethics condemned all contact with matter. Marriage and procreation were forbidden because one must not collaborate in the work of Satan, who sought to keep souls imprisoned in their bodies. Since death constituted a libation, suicide was encouraged. They applied the withdrawal of nourishment, from the sick and even from infants, to accelerate the return of the soul to heaven. The Albigensians denied the State's right to wage war and to punish criminals

Albigensianism established two classes of faithful: the “perfects” and the simple believers. The first, few in number, were initiated, lived in monasteries and conformed to the Albigensian moral philosophy. The second, the vast majority, were freed of all moral obligations, in sexual matters to be sure, but also in commercial ones. Debauchery, contraception, abortion, euthanasia,

I suicide, brutal capitalism, an intense materialism and salvation for all were the consequences of such a doctrine. This was a menace not only for the Church, but was also leading to the destruction of the common good of the society, as you can imagine.

Regarding the Spanish Inquisition that was created in 1478, few realize today that Spain had just got over the effects of eight hundred years of struggle against the Muslim occupying force, when she had to face also the spectre of Protestantism and a subversive Jewish and Muslim element that professed to be Catholic but which acted to undermine the foundations of that very Catholic society.

Do not forget that the Inquisition only had jurisdiction over those who professed to be Catholics but whose religious practices were inconsistent with the true Faith. True Jews or true Muslims had nothing to fear from her.

What about torture? As one living in this century, I cannot accept and justify torture. But when dealing with history, we must acknowledge that this ugly practice was used by all the tribunals of that time. In his book, "The Spanish Inquisition", Henry Kamen professor from Yale University, who is likely to be a Protestant, wrote: "The scene of sadism conjured up by popular writers on the Inquisition have little basis in reality... A comparison with the cruelty and mutilation common in secular tribunals shows the Inquisition in a relatively favorable light This in conjunction with the usually good level of prison conditions makes it clear that the tribunal had little interest in cruelty and often attempted to temper justice with mercy." Besides, torture was not widely used; between 5 to 10 percent of the cases were subject to it.

As to affirm that millions of people died because of this tribunal is complete nonsense. During the three centuries of the Spanish Inquisition, considered as the most severe one, about 4000 people have been put to death and not by the tribunal itself, but by the State. We are far from the 12 million who died in Hitler's concentration camps or the 100 million who died because of the Communist persecutions within only 80 years of the twentieth century.

To be honest we must also note the significant contribution made by the Inquisition to the judicial systems in the countries in which it operated, for instance, in forbidding the use of torture more than once on the same person, and in introducing the hitherto unheard of concept of a defense counsel, a lawyer who acted on the defendant's behalf.

And. now let's deal with the Crusades.

Up to the eighth century, all the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea were Christians. And suddenly, some countries of Europe like Spain, of the Middle East like Palestine, Turkey, Syria, and of North Africa like Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt became Muslim countries. How was it possible? By a miracle? Or was it because the Muslims came with a lovely smile and bouquets of roses in their hands and offered these to people to change their religion?

To speak only of Palestine, the Muslim invasion during the eighth century and the storming of Jerusalem disrupted the Christian life in the East and made a journey to the Holy City almost impossible. Fortunately, and thanks to his tremendous prestige, Emperor Charlemagne (crowned in 800) was able to come to an agreement with the Sultan of Baghdad, who allowed free access to the holy places to the pilgrims who were placed under the protection of the great emperor.           .

In 1009, the situation changed suddenly with the sack of Jerusalem by the Turks. Christians were massacred and the church of the Holy Sepulchre built by Emperor Constantine was pulled down. Then began a severe Muslim military occupation over the City.

Despite the new situation, some pilgrimages to the Holy Land kept on going, organized at a high cost in gold or under heavy armed protection which proved itself sometimes insufficient, for many pilgrims were ill-treated, kidnapped or killed. Pope Urban II was very much concerned about the news coming from the Holy Land reporting the ill treatment suffered by the pilgrims there.

In 1095, while attending the Council of Placenza, a few envoys sent by Emperor Alexis Comnenos of Constantinople came to him carrying an imploring request regarding the Turkish menace. An urgent reinforcement coming from the West needed, by the Emperor, motivated Pope Urban II to take action. In order to study the possibility of a military operation, he went to France to visit o good number of nobles and religious, listening to their advice and asking for their support. He met especially during the 15th August pilgrimage in Le Puy, the bishop of this city, Adhemar of Monteil who fully agreed with the plans of the Pope. During this meeting, Pope Urban II decided on the calling of a Council in Clermont, in the following month of November.

At the end of the Council the Pope rose to preach to the huge crowds of Lords, knights and men of the common people and exhorted them to up the defense of their helpless brothers suffering in the East.

The Crusades were an enterprise of self-defense for Christendom against the danger of Turkish invasion. It was not set up as a holy war to convert people by force, which is contrary to the Catholic teaching unlike the Muslim ­Jihad. If some atrocities had been committed, it was the sad and inevitable result of any kind of war, and is highly regrettable. But the atrocities, as proved by historica1 researches, came from both sides. So, why must we put the blame only on the Church? When a non-Catholic commits a crime, often one says: “a man killed another man”. When a Catholic commits the same crime, must we say: "Catholicism .is very bad?" What an amazing way of practicing justice and of writing history.

To conclude, I must now do justice to all the Saints and Martyrs who died for Christ since the beginning of the Church. It is not true to say that Christianity has been spread by force and violence. For instance, if Europe became a Catholic continent, it was because of the martyrdom of hundreds of thousands men and women who were put to death during the bloody persecutions of the Roman Emperors, especially Nero, Trajan, Decius and Diocletian. Martyrs like St. Sebastian, or St. Lawrence so well venerated by the Catholic Sri Lankans. Also Martyrs like St. Ignatius of Antioch of whom I spoke above. When the Emperor Trajan, who offered to make St. Ignatius a priest of Jupiter and a member of the Senate if he would but sacrifice to the Gods, punished his refusal by the sentence of death, the Saint said in a prayer: "I thank Thee, O Lord, because that Thou hast vouchsafed to make me worthy of giving Thee a proof of my love by sacrificing my life for Thy faith; I desire, O Lord, that the beasts may hasten to devour me, that I may make to Thee the sacrifice of myself." As long as there are Catholics ready to die for their faith, like in today's Sudan or Indonesia, the Church will continue to carry her message all over the world, for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.

INTERNATIONAL FIDES SERVICE–
December 17th/24th1999-No 4177– NE 699

DOSSIER

SRI LANKA – a lacerated island in search of peace

Elections brought forward, civil war rages, Bishops call for an end to violence

Colombo (Fides) – President Chandrika Kumaratunga, leader of the People’s Alliance party., called for presidential elections to be held on December 21st, a year earlier than scheduled.

The elections come at a time of ferocious civil war. In early November separatist movement Liberation Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) launched an ‘unending wave’ aiming to re-conquer a large region north of Vanni and inflicting heavy losses on the regular army which – observers say – is crumbling: 10 military bases lost, more than 100 military dead, and 50,000 deserters. Attacks intensified after the announcement of early elections.

The LTTE has taken the north western base of Thallady, which connects Sri Lanka’s mainland to the little islet of Mannar, a strategic centre, and they aim to take the Mannar – Vavuniya-Kilinnochchi highway, used by the government army to supply food and ammunition to troops at the Jaffna stronghold, the last still held by the army. With another ferocious attack the LTTE took the town of Tirukketisvaram and the village around the Madhu shrine.

In 1997 and 1998 the army had taken back much territory, opening a corridor to the north. But since the beginning of 1999 the rebels regained much territory including several towns in Vanni.

In a December 6th joint statement the Catholic Bishops of Sri Lanka and the Conference of Major Superiors in Sri Lanka, called for a cease-fire before, during and after the elections, encouraging the people to vote. "Voting is a sacred duty – they wrote – not to vote means to shirk a serious responsibility". They called on candidates in the elections to "avoid all forms of coercion, irregularity, manipulation and violence" encouraging them to accept peacefully the results of the poll.

The statement said Catholics should be in the front line to promote mutual respect and harmony among the parties and their supporters. They also invited them to pray for elections without violence and for peace in Sri Lanka: "Let us ask, Jesus Prince of Peace and Mary, Our Lady of Lanka, to reconcile the country".

Observers say the President called early elections to strengthen her position before parliamentary elections (scheduled for August 2000). But her strategy is not without risk. The major opposition group, United National Party, led by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has based its electoral campaign on the President’s failings: failure to achieve peace; failure to make any economic or social progress. In 1999 economic growth fell to 4% compared to 4.7% in 1998. Inflation is 7% and exports of tea, Sri Lanka’s main product, have dropped by 8.9%.

Moreover the moderate party Tamil United Front has decided to stand as an independent force, withdrawing the support given to the government coalition in 1994. The leader, Joseph Parajasingham, reproves the President for failing to satisfy the Tamils’ requests for a radical de-centralisation of power in favour of provincial councils. (17/12/1999)

SRI LANKA
Both sides guilty of massacres, common graves and disappearances

Colombo (Fides) – Sri Lanka is second in the world, after Iraq, for the number of disappeared people: this is one of the most serious tragedies of this civil war. According to a United Nations survey since 1982 at least 12 thousand people have disappeared after being arrested by the security forces. The government itself puts the figure at 17,000.

Besides disappearances, in September common graves were discovered around Chemmani village , near Jaffna. Observers say the bodies are those of young Tamil who have disappeared since 1995. About a hundred bodies lie in the Chemmani graves but it is feared there may be many others in graves elsewhere in the region.

Amnesty International blames the government for the disappearance of at latest 540 Tamils, missing since June 1995. In 1998 a soldier on trial told a Colombo Court that some 400 Tamil had been killed and buried in Chemmani. The human rights organisation also reports a more recent case of torture of three Tamil charged with murdering moderate Tamil leader Neelan Tiruchelvam in July this year (see Fides July 27th 1999). In a letter to the President of Sri Lanka Amnesty International says the three men were tortured while detained at the police headquarters in Colombo.

There are reports of violation of human rights also on the part of Tamil rebels. On September 18th in the Amparai district, one of the most recent episodes, LTTE rebels massacred in retaliation, 48 civilians including 17 women and children, hacking them to pieces with knives and daggers. Since the beginning of the war the LTTE have killed the inhabitants of numerous Sinhalese villages, and they are known to have carried out ethnic cleansing in the Jaffna area in 1990.

Tamil fighters are famous for ruthless suicide attacks. Men, women and children padded with explosive throw themselves at human targets. This happened to Indian leader Rajiv Gandhi (1991 when he made an agreement with the Colombo government); to the President of Sri Lanka Ranasinghe Premadasa (1993); to Tamil member of parliament Neel Tiruchelvan (July 29th 1999), who favoured a peaceful solution to the war (see Fides August 13th 1999); most of the leaders of the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front. (17/12/1999)

SRI LANKA – Notes
Ethnic groups and religions have always struggled for supremacy

Colombo (Fides) In Sri Lanka the population comprises different ethnic groups and religions. The largest ethnic group are the Sinhalese, about 79%. The Tamil minority amounts to about 12,7% mainly concentrated in the north eastern part of the Island. Then there are 17% Moors of Arab and Malaysian origin. 71% of the population is Buddhist, a group which animated anti-colonialist nationalism. Today Buddhism is the state religion. A Hindu minority 15% is mainly Tamil. Besides this there are Muslims, 7%, and Christians mainly Catholics about 7%.

Buddhism reached the island in 300 BC. The Tamils invaded Sri Lanka in 2000 AD. After a period of dominion they were pushed back to the northern part of the territory. Arab merchants brought the Moslem religion to Ceylon between the 10th and 14th century.

The first Westerners to arrive were the Portuguese in 1505, with Jesuit missionaries who were followed by the first Franciscan missionaries in 1517. Dutch colonisers, arriving in 1656, replace the Portuguese and begin violent persecution of Catholics. In 1796 the British occupy the island, repealing the anti-Catholic laws in 1806. There is another massive immigration of Tamils from southern India to work in the tea plantations. The country obtains independence in 1948. Three years later the Sri Lanka Freedom Part, nationalist, pro-Buddhist, which goes to government in 1956.

1956 marks a political turning point. Ultra-nationalists grow in numbers, Christians, particularly the Europeans, are looked on with suspicion. Much emphasis is given to Buddhist culture and customs. The nationalist government led by Solomon Bandaranake, triggers the first ethnic disputes which lead Tamils to feel they are not accepted as an integral part of the country. Consequent conflict with the Tamil minority results in the first masse violence in 1958. Many observers say this period dug a deep trench between Tamil and Sinhalese which has never been filled.

In 1959 Bandaranake is assassinated and his wife Sirimavo takes his place a year later (the first woman prime minister) and remained there until 1965. Her nationalist government adopts an economy aiming at protection. Catholic schools and hospitals are nationalised, many nuns are forced to stop working in public hospitals.

In 1972, on the wave of nationalism, the institutional aspect of the state is modified. The Upper House is abolished leaving only the Lower House. The Island changes its name from Ceylon to Republic of Sri Lanka, with Sinhalese as the official language and Buddhism as the official religion. In 1976 the Tamils found a moderate party, the Tamil United Liberation Front.

Repeated acts of violence led in the end in 1983 to the outbreak of civil war, after the Tamil had killed 13 army soldiers. All over the country the Tamil are targeted by the Sinhalese and the flee one masse to the north. The armed groups of Tamil form the Liberation Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) and claim an independent state. The civil war has deleterious effects on tourism and economy, based on the export of tea and rubber.

In 1987 Sri Lanka and India agree, with LTTE consent, that India should send a peace force of 45,000 men. Two years later the agreement is abrogated and civil war resumes.

President Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga, elected in 1994 and still in office, attempts to reduce tension, setting up commissions respectively to protect human rights and to enquire into the disappearances. She is convinced that the war is waged only by extremist groups and that most of the Tamil do not want the war. But in the meantime, violence continues and cease-fire agreements are repeatedly broken. (M. A.) (17/12/1999)

SRI LANKA
Madhu Shrine stands as a sign of hope amidst the fury of war

Colombo (Fides) - Madhu Marian shrine has always been regarded as a holy place by all Sri Lankans, not only Catholics. But civil war has not spared the Islanders’ sacred place which stands now in the middle of a battle ground. There have been victims even among the thousands of civilian refugees: on November 20th a bomb attacked killed 44 and wounded more than 60 of those seeking shelter within Madhu boundaries (see Fides November 26th 1999). The army and rebels blamed each other reciprocally for the episode. The Catholic Bishops called for Madhu to be a de-militarised zone with guaranteed security for pilgrims as well as at least 15,000 refugees. The Church also urged the government to provide assistance for the displaced thousands in need of plastic sheeting and food as the monsoon season approaches. (see Fides December 12th 1999).

It is since 1990 that Madhu shrine has housed fleeing thousands, with the tacit consent of the warring parties. The LTTE fighters who used to control the surrounding area, remained outside the shrine; but the army, which took control last March, actually entered the holy ground, causing indignant protests on the part of Bishop Joseph Rayappu of Mannar. He appealed to the President who ordered the army to withdraw. (see Fides April 4th 1999).

Madhu shrine has a history of more than four centuries. In 1544 Sankili, King of Jaffna, fearing the spread of Western influence, ordered the massacre of 600 Christians of Mannar who had been converted by chaplains travelling with Portuguese traders, the first of whom landed on the island of Ceylon in 1505. Some Catholics who survived built a small forest chapel in which they placed a statue of Our Lady, the same statue venerated at Madhu shrine today. Later, in 1583, Christians fleeing again from Mannar, built places of worship elsewhere, including a church at Mantai and this was Our Lady of Madhu’s first "home".

When the Dutch arrived in Ceylon in 1656 they began to persecute the local Catholics. In 1670 thirty Catholic families, carrying with them the statue of Our Lady, sought refuge at a place called Maruthamadhu, the site of Madhu shrine today. Among other Catholics who escaped Dutch persecution and reached safety in the same place was a Portuguese woman named Helena, later responsible for the building of the first little Church dedicated to Our Lady of Madhu.

Soon Our Lady of Madhu was known all over Sri Lanka as Protectress and powerful healer from poisonous snake bites. With the arrival in Sri Lanka of Fr Joseph Vaz, in 1687, there was a new flourishing of Catholicism and in 1706 Madhu was already known as a missionary centre. The present church building was begun by Mgr Bonjean who laid the foundation stone in 1872. The papal legate crowned the statue in the name of Pope Pius XI in 1924. The church building was consecrated in 1944. (M.A). (17/12/1999)

SRI LANKA

Area;65,610 sq km; population;18,100,000 (growth 1.2%); languages; Sinhalese, Tamil, English religions; Buddhist 61%, Hindu 22%, Christian and Muslim minorities; capital; Colombo; government; republic; economy; gross prod: US$ 13,475 million; annual growth: 4 %; (1998) 4.7% inflation: 7%; foreign debt: US$ 8,230 million (1998) ; income per capita: US$ 740; trading partners: U.S., Asia, U. E., Japan

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN SRI LANKA

Catholics 1,238,000 ; Dioceses11; Parishes 1121; Bishops 15; Priests 876 (568diocesan 308 religious); Brothers 246; Sisters 2,237; Seminarians 394; Catechists 9,240

Effective evangelization began in 1543 and made great progress by the middle of the 17th century. The Church was seriously hampered during the Dutch period from about 1650 to 1795. Anti-Catholic laws were repealed by the British in 1860. The hierarchy was established in 1886. Leftist governments and other factors have worked against the Church since the country became independent in 1948. The high percentage of indigenous clergy and religious has been of great advantage to the Church. Challenges: reconciliation between Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups; interreligious dialogue with Buddhism. (17/12/1999)

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