Philippines Church ready for Pope Francis

 

Fr Mario Francisco, SJ reviews Tagalog language lyrics he composed for the public Mass of Pope Francis at Rizal Park (Luneta) Jan. 18./ NJ Viehland Photos

Fr Mario Francisco, SJ reviews Tagalog language lyrics he composed for the public Mass of Pope Francis at Rizal Park (Luneta) Jan. 18./ NJ Viehland Photos

… But this is the Philippines, where “the Christian story and Christian symbols have played a very important role in everyday life,” said Jesuit Fr. Jose Mario Francisco, who teaches contextual theology at Loyola School of Theology in Quezon City.

“Even when the percentage of people who have regular contact with the church through Mass and activities may be much smaller than the 80 percent who are Catholic or the 90 percent who are Christian,” Francisco said, “the influence of Christianity in the Philippines remains very strong through devotions, worship, music and other symbols.”

He cited Haiyan survivors who were photographed fleeing…

Read full report

 

 

 

Pope Francis thanks Filipina actress

 

 

Rita Avila YouTube

Rita Avila, actress  http://youtu.be/63Uus-v4BsY

MANILA, Dec. 11, 2014 – Pope Francis, through a high-ranking Vatican official, thanked Rita Avila, a local actress and book author, for recently sending him personal copies of her two books, CBCPNews reported.

What are the books about, why is this actress writing books, and what did Pope Francis tell Rita?

Read full report

Delhi police yield to Christians, special probe team for church burning

New Delhi:The Delhi police Tuesday bowed to the Christian community in the national capital after more than 15,000 people choked one of the most congested traffic junctions in India for more than two hours.

The crowd dispersed after the Delhi Police’s Special Commissioner for Law and Order Deepak Mishra agreed to a probe by a special team from crime branch into the burning of St. Sebastian’s Church in Dilshad Garden, East Delhi, on Monday morning.

The commissioner has also agreed to launch departmental enquiry into the alleged inaction of the local police.

The Delhi administration has also agreed to renovate the church with the help of the Central Public Works Department starting Thursday.

Crowds began to collect in front of the Delhi Police Headquarters from morning hours, blocking all the roads to the Income Tax Office junction where the police headquarters is situated.

Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, who led the rally…

Read full story...

 

No surrender of “love of God” in educating Filipinos – DepEd Sec De La Salle Bro. Luistro

De La Salle Brother Armin Luistro, Secretary of Education - FaceBook Photo

De La Salle Brother Armin Luistro, Secretary of Education – FaceBook Photo

Education Secretary Brother Armin Luistro, a member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (De La Salle) denied reports that the department he leads has surrendered its vision of learners formed to be “God-loving,” as claimed in various media reports on the department’s revised statement of vision, mission and values (VMV.)

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) the same day  issued a statement lamenting the silence about God in the reworded version of the  vision statement.

Brother Luistro explained the new statement of the department’s VMV in a post on the DepEd’s website Friday, Aug. 29. He stressed that the statement of vision, mission and values must be taken in its entirety. Doing so would show that the term “God-loving” remains as a value that the department seeks to promote as stated in the word “Maka-Diyos”, its synonym in Filipino language.

He said specifying the formation of students who are  God-loving, pro-people, pro-environment and patriotic allows values education teachers to develop modules that will form persons of integrity who live out their faith and convictions, while avoiding pietism or ritualism.

“We do not have any fundamental disagreement therefore with the position of various groups who wish to promote the love of God among our learners.”

He also affirmed the constitutional principle of “benevolent neutrality” towards religion and spirituality. He said the department will continue to promote the spirit of inclusivity and remain open to dialogue.

Brother Luistro’s complete statement reads:

On 4 September 2013, I released DepEd Order No. 36 s. 2013 in order to update the Agency’s directions and further strengthen our capacity to fulfill our constitutional mandate.  The review of our Vision and Mission was anchored on the Filipino Core Values of *Maka-Diyos, Maka-Tao, Makakalikasan and Makabansa as articulated in Section 40, Republic Act 8491. [*pro-God, pro-human being, pro-environment, patriotic]

Recent media reports have mistakenly attributed to me claiming, “the God-loving phrase was removed from the department’s vision to be fair to Filipinos who may subscribe to other beliefs and principles”. I had not issued any statement to that effect. This attribution is completely false.

Other articles refer to a Christian advocacy group whose spokesperson “aired the group’s dissatisfaction over what it believes is a rash decision on DepEd’s part that had been influenced by some members of the non-religious sector.”  Other local news articles referred to a group claiming to have pressured the Department based on an open letter that they posted on 5 February 2013 via their Twitter account.  I have not had the occasion to interact with any of these groups on this matter.

As early as 2010, discussions on the revision of the VMV were initiated within the department. A series of consultations was conducted with key persons in various levels of the organization, including the regions and school divisions.

It is important that the DepEd’s new VMV be regarded as one document to be appreciated in its entirety.

The term “God-loving” is synonymous with Maka-Diyos. The term Maka-Diyos is essentially connected with Maka-tao, Makakalikasan and Makabansa and allows our Values Education teachers to develop modules that will hopefully form persons of integrity.  It warns against pietism or ritualism and encourages persons of faith to live those convictions everyday, everywhere.

We maintain that the formation of God-loving learners is a vision that we have not surrendered. We do not have any fundamental disagreement therefore with the position of various groups who wish to promote the love of God among our learners. We affirm the long-established constitutional principle of “benevolent neutrality” towards religion and spirituality. We also affirm that the department will continue to promote the spirit of inclusivity and remain open to dialogue, as this is a part of learning to live together.

************

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – NJ Viehland Photos

Following is the full text of Archbishop Villegas’ statement sent to Catholic in Asia 

CBCP President on the 2013 Version of the Vision Statement of the Department of Education

The Department of Education recently re-worded its Vision Statement.  In the past, the department tasked with the formation of our children once envisioned “functionally literate and God-fearing Filipinos”.  Unfortunately, in its 2013 version, there is no more mention of God, nor of the salutary fear of Him that, Scripture tells us, is the beginning of all wisdom.

A vision statement is not an empty platitude.  It guides the articulation of policy.  It orientates plans of action.  While maka-Diyos remains one of the Department’s core-values, we maintain that the formation of God-fearing pupils and students is a vision that cannot be surrendered.

“This Sacred Synod likewise declares that children and young people have a right to be motivated to appraise moral values with a right conscience, to embrace them with a personal adherence, together with a deeper knowledge and love of God.”  This is what Vatican II teaches in “Gravissimum Educationis“. 

Children ride a jeep with their mothers in Pasig City, east of Manila, to enroll for school in June. - NJ Viehland Photos

Children ride a jeep with their mothers in Pasig City, east of Manila, to enroll for school in June. – NJ Viehland Photos

The right of a child to recognize God, to love him and to hope in him cannot be harmful to anyone else, believer or not.  Our pluralistic society indeed accords respect for the option of some to believe and for others not to. This respect for pluralism does not compel civil society to expunge the name of God from public life, especially when the majority of Filipinos continue to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and to trust in Divine Providence. Furthermore, the attitude of our laws in the Philippines towards religion is characterized as’benevolent neutrality’: the accommodation of religion whenever such accommodation does not offend law or public policy.

We exhort our Catholic laity in public elementary and high schools to be zealous in the apostolate of forming pupils and students. Do not get tired of teaching that God is the beginning and the end of all things, that he is the Father who wishes all to have life, and to have it to the full! 

This, our dear public school teachers, is your particular mission in the life of the Church, the dignity of your calling as evangelizers within the world and its concerns.  It is a challenge of particular urgency in this, the Year of the Laity. Stand up for God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

August 29, 2014, Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS   

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan  

President, CBCP

************

At least 20 million students enrolled in public pre-school to high school in school year 2011-2012 and 3 million reportedly enrolled in private schools for those levels.

 
 

 

Kodaikanal tribals pray for abducted Jesuit’s release – Matters India

Matters India photo published with permission
Matters India photo published with permission

A group of tribals joined NGO workers in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, to pray for the  release of a Jesuit priest who was abducted in Afghanistan.

Fr Alexis Prem Kumar, who is suspected to be in Taliban custody, had earlier worked in Kodaikanal to spread education among tribal people, reported mattersindia.com .  Unidentified gunmen took him into custody when he had gone to visit a school in Herat region of Afghanistan.

Volunteers at the mass prayer fondly remembered the 47-year-old priest’s dedication and commitment for the advancement of poor tribal people. The prayer was held at the unorganized sector workers’ union office in the hill station on Wednesday.

Read full report 

Kodaikanal is a city in the hills of the Dindigul district in the state of Tamil Nadu, India 

Father Kumar reportedly visited tribal communities there. Members of a settlement of about 40 families in Lower Kodaikanal spoke to Times of India about their shock over the news of abduction of  the  priest who has helped them.

Related posts

Afghanistan ‘sui iuris’ head appeals for silence, prayers for kidnapped Jesuit

Indian Jesuit kidnapped in Afghanistan – Matters India news service

 

 

 

 

Eagerness grows over papal visits to Asia

Updated May 29 11:15 a.m.

MANILA – Reports of Pope Francis’ inflight announcement of plans to visit the Philippines and Sri Lanka in January spread quickly in media here Tuesday, but Catholics are not the only Asian people excited for a visit from the pope.

Read full report here Eagerness grows over Pope Francis’ visits to Asia

The official website of the Archdiocese of Colombo also reported that Pope Francis’ announcement of the January 2015 visit has been received with delight in the south Asian country.  

Cardinal Ranjith, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka invited Pope Francis to visit his country during the Ad Limina visit of the Bishops’ Conference this month.

Eye Sri Lanka earlier this month had quoted Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Manna as saying that the papal visit to Sri Lanka “is scheduled for 13-15 January 2015.” 

Bishop Joseph was one of 13 Sri Lankan bishops who were in Rome May 2-3 for their ad limina visit. He reportedly told Asia News that Pope Francis in addressing the bishops of Sri Lanka encouraged the Church in its efforts towards national reconciliation. The pope reportedly said even though the nearly 26 year-old war ended in 2009, much needs to be done towards reconciliation, respect for human rights and true peace. 

Click here to read the full report Pope Francis will visit Sri Lanka in January 2015?

Related posts:

What can Asia expect of upcoming papal visits?

Papal visit to Korea motto and logo released

New Philippines bishops’ head: Church marches to the beat of Pope Francis

 Ruki Fernando out of detention – is he free?

Other voices:

Sri Lanka monks occupy ministry building – Buddhist nationalist group Ravana Balaya stages sit-in at religious affairs ministry against religious police unit.

 

 

Manila Cathedral reopens with thanks and warning on ‘false gods’

Sharing my notes from the homily of Cardinal Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila last Wednesday, when he led the celebration of the reopening of Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, Manila:

1. It just dawned on me that I took canonical possession of the Archdiocese of Manila on Dec. 12, 2011 and one of my first decisions as the new archbishop was to close my cathedral.

NJ Viehland Photos

NJ Viehland Photos

Cardinal Luis Tagle, Mass for reopening of Manila Cathedral, April 9, 2014, Intramuros - NJ Viehland Photos

Cardinal Luis Tagle, Mass for reopening of Manila Cathedral, April 9, 2014, Intramuros – NJ Viehland Photos

2. The story is too long and profound to share with you. But let us realize that this is the 8th rebuilding in the more than 100 years of history of the Archdiocese of Manila. Buildings that have gone down because of fire, earthquake, wars, but a building that does not remain down. It just refuses to be dead. It rises.

Manila Cathedral door and barricade, April 10, 2014 - NJ Viehland Photos

Manila Cathedral door and barricade, April 10, 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

3. From what I’ve seen the past two years (of work on the cathedral) let me answer my own question, how does one rebuild a church? What does it take to rebuild a church?

a. generosity of the people – that’s how a church is reconstructed

Companies, individuals, simple faithful … people so many to mention. God knows who you are.

We cannot reconstruct, rebuild and strengthen the Church without generosity of spirit… Generosity with resources, expertise, dedication – they all need to be fueled by faith: love of God, love of the Church, devotion to Our Lady.

Henrietta de Villa, vice chair of the Manila Cathedral Basilica Foundation Board of Trustees, April 9, 2014, Reopening of Manila Cathedral, Intramuros, Manila - NJ Viehland Photos

Henrietta de Villa, vice chair of the Manila Cathedral Basilica Foundation Board of Trustees, April 9, 2014, Reopening of Manila Cathedral, Intramuros, Manila – NJ Viehland Photos

4. That’s why I know, especially for our brethren who are going through great trials brought by earthquake,  typhoons, people-made calamities like that in Mindanao in Zamboanga, people affected by Pablo, Sendong, those in Samar, Leyte, Iloilo, Cebu, Capiz, Aklan, Palawan, Nueva Ecija – I believe that in the same way Manila Cathedral collapsed into rubble, rose up and is now so beautiful again – the Filipino nation can rise up! (my translation from Tagalog)

Cardinal Luis Tagle with two young survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) after his dialogue with People Surge survivors' group at his residence in Intramuros, Manila April 8, 2014 - NJ Viehland Photos

Cardinal Luis Tagle with two young survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) after his dialogue with People Surge survivors’ group at his residence in Intramuros, Manila April 8, 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

5. We are celebrating the reconstruction, the retrofitting of Manila Cathedral, which is not just a building, but a living symbol of community of faithful that has journeyed through centuries.

Reopening of Manila Cathedral, April 9, 2014, Intramuros, Manila   - NJ Viehland Photos

Reopening of Manila Cathedral, April 9, 2014, Intramuros, Manila – NJ Viehland Photos

Banda Kawayan Pilipinas (bamboo band Philippines) swayed and shuffled while playing Filipino cultural staple music ahead of the Mass for reopening of Manila Cathedral led by Cardinal Luis Tagle April 9, 2014 in Intramuros, Manila. - NJ Viehland Photos

Banda Kawayan Pilipinas (bamboo band Philippines) swayed and shuffled while playing Filipino cultural staple music ahead of the Mass for reopening of Manila Cathedral led by Cardinal Luis Tagle April 9, 2014 in Intramuros, Manila. – NJ Viehland Photos

Cultural dancers drew people outside Manila Cathedral hours before Cardinal Luis Tagle led the Mass to reopen the church after 2 years of reconstruction work. - NJ Viehland photos

Cultural dancers drew people outside Manila Cathedral hours before Cardinal Luis Tagle led the Mass to reopen the church after 2 years of reconstruction work. – NJ Viehland photos

People of all ages watched musicians and dancers perform cultural numbers outside Manila Cathedral while waiting for the reopening Mass led by Cardinal Luis Tagle after 2 years of reconstruction and retrofitting work. - NJ Viehland Photos

People of all ages watched musicians and dancers perform cultural numbers outside Manila Cathedral while waiting for the reopening Mass led by Cardinal Luis Tagle after 2 years of reconstruction and retrofitting work. – NJ Viehland Photos

5. As we strengthen our place of worship, we learn how to truly worship, and I’m thankful to God that the readings for today are about true worship. Lo and behold, when I opened the missal, I said, Lord, the choice of the day was really yours, it was not ours. 

6. The essence of worship is just to worship because God deserves such worship.

students offer bottles of coins at Mass for reopening of Manila Cathedral April 9, 2014 - NJ Viehland Photos

students offer bottles of coins at Mass for reopening of Manila Cathedral April 9, 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

7. As we reopen this place of worship, let us commit ourselves to the worship of the true God, and let us commit ourselves to ignoring idols, for example, idolatry of money, power, lust…

8. Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “If you remain in my Word, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free – free from idols, free from inspiration of false gods – that’s the fruit of true worship: truth and wisdom in Jesus Christ.

Statement of Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, CBCP President, RH Law

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila.                          NJ Viehland Photo

I encourage our Catholic faithful to maintain respect and esteem for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has decided on the RH issue based on existing laws in the Philippines.

The Church must continue to uphold the sacredness of human life, to teach always the dignity of the human person and to safeguard the life of every human person from conception to natural death.

Although the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the RH law, it has truly watered down the RH law and consequently upheld the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience even among government workers. It has also stood on the side of the rights of parents to teach their children.

We cannot see eye-to-eye with our pro-RH brethren on this divisive issue but we can work hand-in-hand for the good of the country.

On the part of the Church, we must continue to teach what is right and moral. We will continue to proclaim the beauty and holiness of every human person. Through two thousand years, the Church has lived in eras of persecution, authoritarian regimes, wars and revolutions. The Church can continue its mission even with such unjust laws. Let us move on from being an RH-law-reactionary-group to a truly Spirit empowered disciples of the Gospel of life and love. We have a positive message to proclaim.

April 8, 2014

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
CBCP President

[to follow- Full text of Supreme Court ruling on Constitutionality of the RH Law. NJV]

Temptation of Sr. Cristina

Sr Cristina Scuccia Facebook photo of the 25 year-old Ursuline nun from Italy whose world changed radically after she sang in The Voice of Italy March 19.

Sr Cristina Scuccia Facebook photo of the 25 year-old Ursuline nun from Italy whose world changed radically after she sang in The Voice of Italy March 19.

 

By now you must know Sister Cristina Scuccia, a 25-year-old Sicilian who appeared in her habit, veil and chunky shoes on the Italian version of The Voice reality tv show.

She has become an instant star, with her audition racking up more than 3m views on YouTube, The Guardian reported

Some people cheer Sr. Cristina, a few wrote “hate, hate, hate…” and how they were “appalled” by the nun’s behavior.

I confess to being amused to watch Sr. Cristina’s video. Unlike many online commentators, however, I wasn’t stunned. For one thing, it is common for me to watch nuns singing into a microphone. Okay – not onstage in competition singing Alicia Keys in rockstar style, literally, that is. What’s the connection between spirituality and celebrity?

Professor Thomas Sebastian, an academic based in Birmingham, UK reflects on this question in India Matters’ March 28 issue

 

Ruki Fernando out of detention – is he free?

Ruki Fernando photo on Facebook page of FORUM-ASIA which signed the Joint Statement with Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch calling Sri Lanka government to "Free Prominent Rights Defenders" and asserting that " Arrests of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen are Attempts to Silence Critics" http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/17/sri-lanka-free-prominent-rights-defenders

Ruki Fernando photo on Facebook page of FORUM-ASIA which signed the Joint Statement with Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch calling Sri Lanka government to “Free Prominent Rights Defenders” and asserting that ” Arrests of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen are Attempts to Silence Critics” http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/17/sri-lanka-free-prominent-rights-defenders

Human rights defenders Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan are out of detention in Sri Lanka’s Terrorist Investigation Department (TID), but Fernando, in conversation over the phone from his home in Colombo told me hours after their release, he does not feel completely free.

Two days after their release, a Sri Lanka journalist reported  that authorities continued to “harass” Fernando and Mahesan

Police arrested Mahesan and Fernando on March 16 evening from Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka while the two were on a fact-finding mission in the area. They were taken in Tharmapuram near the home of Jeyakumari Belndra  who was arrested a week earlier for allegedly harboring an absconding Tiger. After being interrogated “harshly” in Kilinochchi and nearby Vavuniya, the two were finally detained at the TID headquarters in Colombo.

A few hours after Fernando’s release, he shared his sadness over continued “unjust” incarceration and maltreatment of other detainees mostly from north and northeast Sri Lanka. Rebels based there fought the government for a separate state until they were violently defeated in 2009.

The U.N. Human Rights Council in session in Geneva prepared to tackle a draft resolution sponsored by the United States and other countries calling for an international investigation into “past abuses and to examine more recent attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and religious minorities.”

Fernando expressed his and Fr. Mahesan’s gratitude to local and international NGOs, religious groupings, human rights bodies and governments around the world for throwing their support behind them and for demanding their release. The detainees freed last March 19 give credit to the pressure exerted by this movement for their release and safety in the hands of the police and interrogators.

Soon after this interview, the Sri Lanka government barred Fernando from giving interviews to foreign media.

Following is the full text of my conversation with Fernando:

” We left behind the many people who have been detained in the very place we were detained…unjustly…”

N.J. Viehland : Exactly when were you released?

Ruki Fernando : It was about 1:30 this morning in Sri Lanka.

What happened?

We were trying to do some fact finding about the human rights situation from war affected areas of the Kilinochchi district. When we were there on Sunday it was very very tense. During the whole Saturday and Sunday we were there. We encountered many many checkpoints which was not very usual because we had traveled in that area before.

We were stopped in several places. We were detained for 15 minutes, 20 minutes in certain places, our identity card numbers were taken.

When we went to visit someone in a house the army came and questioned us. That’s quite unusual that when we visit a person the army would come into the house and question you – a person in uniform and someone in civilian clothes.

When we went on to visit another lady, that lady was already being questioned by intelligence officials so we could not enter in her house. So throughout the one-and-a-half days we were intimidated. We faced restrictions and surveillance, and it was a very very tense situation. Then finally, it was around 10 pm on Sunday that were arrested.

Initially we were told that it was in relation to a shooting incident. Then we were told later that we were arrested in relation to supporting terrorism. We were questioned very very intensely. It was very harsh. We were not given access to our lawyers while on detention, although I made several requests.

When we were first arrested I made a request. Later I requested to get a senior official of the terrorist investigation department … that I want to talk with my lawyers. But throughout detention I was not given the opportunity. Many lawyers came to meet me, but the police did not allow any of them to meet me.

I learned I got lots of attention to this in Sri Lanka and also internationally and because of the many requests for the Sri Lanka government to release us from Sri Lankan organizations, individuals and also organizations and people around the world, and I believe because of that our safety while in detention was ensured. We were not physically harmed and eventually our release is also due to the work and the pressure exerted by so many people in Sri Lanka and all over the world.

Any faith-based group that demanded your release? 

Yes, one of the northern dioceses, the Jaffna diocese issued a statement from Catholics calling for our release. There are many individual priests who were also lobbying for us. But I don’t know if the archbishop of my diocese, (Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith) Colombo, has done something that I don’t know about. I know that it was brought to his attention and that there were requests from some people that he would make some intervention because he is very influential with the government.

Fact finding mission – who were you with and what were you investigating, exactly?

We were investigating the very tense situation. We wanted to know why it was so tense. We were looking into allegations of arbitrary arrests of several women in the north and the east during the week. That time we had heard of the allegations so wanted to do a fact-finding and also to get a sense of what the situation was on the ground.

Kilinochchi was the center of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), but we were not only in Kilinochchi town but also in the interior areas because we wanted to check them out. People in that area and also from outside had been telling me there was this situation of tension and arrests and so we wanted to go and look.

Apparently two women who were connected in some way to this person annexed to the key leader for the revival of the LTTE, one was his wife and another was also known to him were under surveillance or arrested. Then the third person is also a woman. We got reports of their arrest.

The government is very edgy – the police and the army. I don’t know if it is justified or not because I don’t have information, but according to what the police and army told me they are treating it as a very serious threat.

You think this reported revival of LTTE has something to do with your arrest? 

No. I think the government does not want the true situation in the northern part to be known to the rest of Sri Lanka and the rest of the world. The government does not want any different story than their own version to get out, and the government is particularly clear that no information should be provided to the UN Human Rights Council currently in session in Geneva.

During questioning they were even asking me who are you sending this information to. In fact one of the three leaders who came to arrest me, he was saying I am sending information to earn money. That was one of their acusation. Another is that I am causing discomfort to the government. This is in writing. So I told them I don’t understand how these can be a crime.

What were conditions in detention?

We were kept in an office the whole day. We were separate. There were few occasions that Father and I could talk to each other but they kept us separate. When we would start to talk about something, we would be separated again. We were kept in the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID).

Why and how were you released? 

They arrested and brought us to the station. Then the police finally decided that they had nothing to show to the court. So they wrote the court that they had nothing against us and they requested for our release. So the magistrate released us accordingly. They signed the request from the police.

Where are you now and how are you and your family feeling about all this?

I’m with my parents now in Colombo. It’s nice to be back. My parents and my sister were very very worried. Starting now they are already relieved, but still quite worried about my safety in the future.

What are next moves for you and Father Mahesan? 

It’s too early to say. Father and I have to still discuss with our lawyers and the people who worked very hard to get us released. We will discuss together and decide on next steps. But one thing that is clear for me and for Father is that we remain very committed to the work we are doing. We were doing what we believe in, that we are doing the right thing. Both of us are Catholic, he as a priest and I a lay person, both of us essentially living our Christian faith so I think we will take these as part of our Lenten pilgrimage, these two days, and we will not be deterred by what has passed, and we will continue to work for human rights.

Any message to people who lobbied for your release?

First, my very great appreciation on behalf of me and on behalf of Father Praveen as well. I’m very very sure that our safety while in detention and our release is because of the work that all of our friends in Sri Lanka did, as well as the media, human rights organizations and even some foreign governments speaking on our behalf.

It shows that if ordinary people, organizations and governments want to, they can actually make a difference in terms of providing safety to people who are in danger, ensuring that people who are detained unjustly are released. It is a very good example of what can be achieved if people are committed.

Very sadly, when I and Father Praaveen walked out to be free men, we left behind the many people who have been detained in the very place we were detained, and those men and women have been detained for much longer than us. Those people do not get even one percent of the attention that Fr. Praveen and I got. So I wish there will be more people who will join Father Praveen and I to ensure the safety and freedom of many other people who are unjustly detained.

END