Bishop in northern Sri Lanka, Tamil alliance protest postponement of war report

Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar on Tuesday (Feb 24) joined a demonstration led by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) against the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decision to delay the release of a report on issues of accountability during the Tamil separatist war and the post-conflict period.

However, Bishop Thomas Savundranayagam of Jaffna where the protests were held refrained from joining the protest due to the participation of politicians in the event, Sri Lankan online newspaper, The Island, reported on Thursday. 

TNA (Tamil: தமிழ்த் தேசியக் கூட்டமைப்பு) is a political alliance in Sri Lanka composed of moderate Tamil parties as well as number of former rebel groups that has participated in elections since 2001.

Bishop Joseph meanwhile reportedly called the deferment of the report’s release as UNHRC’s deception of the Tamil people who have no faith in a domestic investigation of war crimes under any government. 

Read The Island’s full report

On the day of the protest, the Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF) and the Welfare Organisation for the Forcibly Disappeared Persons also jointly decided in Jaffna not to appear and give evidence before the Presidential Commission to Investigate Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (PCICMP).

In their statement released Feb. 27 the forum convened by Bishop Joseph listed reasons why it is convinced that a credible inquiry is possible only through international means.

It noted that while the government has promised to create a credible domestic mechanism for probing alleged atrocities it “seems to continue with the approach adopted by the previous regime towards truth, justice and accountability of which your commission’s continuance is a prominent example.”

“We cannot afford to continue to appear before this commission giving it a stamp of legitimacy,” Task Force leaders wrote.

The UNHCR investigated allegations of war crimes following a resolution adopted last March, and planned to present its report during next month’s session. However the UN body announced it would issue its report in September instead after newly installed Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena assured that government would conduct an impartial and transparent domestic probe into allegations of atrocities. 

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister had reportedly asked the UN body to give the administration installed in January more time to establish a new judicial mechanism to deal with the fallout of the investigation.

Alleged war crimes include attacks on civilians and civilian buildings, and executions of combatants and prisoners by both the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tigers  – the guerrilla organization established in 1976 that sought to establish an independent Tamil state of Eelam in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lankan military and paramilitary groups backed by them were also accused in enforced disappearances and acute shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone. Tamil Tigers were allegedly recruiting children as fighters.

The group gained control of Jaffna Peninsula by 1985, two years after escalation of violence between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lanka military. It lost control of Jaffna in October 1987 to an Indian peacekeeping force that had been sent to Sri Lanka to assist in the implementation of a complete ceasefire.

However, following the withdrawal of the IPKF in March 1990, the Tigers grew in strength and conducted several successful guerrilla operations and attacks around the country and in India.

Earlier in 1981, Pope John Paul II created Mannar diocese from territories formerly under the pastoral care of the Jaffna diocese.

 

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Sri Lanka Commentary: Blessed Joseph Vaz canonization

Joseph Vaz devotion card

Contributed photo

Denigrating the holiest event Lankan Catholics awaited for 303 years

Sri Lanka has decided to hold a presidential election on Jan. 8 – just one week before Pope Francis visits the country. Such advancing of an election, not due for another two years, has deeply hurt the country’s Catholics.

Catholics invited the pope to canonize Blessed Joseph Vaz, the country’s first saint, not for a State visit. The event was set alongside the saint’s Jan. 17 death anniversary. Catholics wished it to be a religious event, with minimal State involvement just for routine protocol. With deep frustration, they now watch the political Trojan horse invade the sanctuary.

The spiritual upbuild for the canonization by groups such as the Joseph Vaz National Secretariat was first distracted with Church-State-planned pageantry for the papal visit. Thereafter political posters made it a tool for election propaganda. Election-related discord and violence may soon overshadow the event. Church leaders little realize the faith erosion caused by letting politics ruin the holiest event Catholics eagerly awaited for 303 years.

Much public distress about the event’s politicization has been expressed via social media and other public exchanges. Many Catholics have urged that the canonization be postponed. Others even say it could be held in Rome like the recent canonization of Indian Saints Chavara and Alphonsa. Some prefer such moves to political denigration of the name of Father Vaz who eschewed politics, and ministered to victims of political conflict.

Sri Lanka Papal visit FB screenshot

The Indian priest had arrived in the country in 1687 dressed as a beggar to avoid Dutch colonizers’ ban on entry of Catholic priests. For 10 years he was the only priest serving the entire country until confreres joined him. During his 24-year apostolate, he searched for Sinhala or Tamil Catholics living in hiding in the aftermath of political conflict between Portuguese and Dutch colonizers. Buddhists and Hindus valued his ascetic witness of treating king and commoner with equanimity.

Saint John Paul II, who beatified Father Vaz in 1995, once described him as the greatest missioner in Asia next to Saint Francis Xavier. It was an affirmation of Lankans’ acclaim of this holy missioner’s sanctity.

Since the missioner’s death in 1711, about 50 books on his life and service have been published in English, French, Italian, Konkani, Sinhalese and Tamil. Devotion to this Apostle of Sri Lanka has spread locally as well as in his Indian homeland. Since his beatification, 10 venues in four Sri Lankan dioceses hold novena devotions to Blessed Vaz. Nine dioceses have dedicated 23 churches and chapels in his honor.

Apart from such public veneration, the aura of his mission still survives in the pastoral field. Trincomalee and Kurunegala dioceses have named their minor seminaries after him. Colombo, Galle and Kurunegala dioceses have opened lay theologates to promote his pioneer mission of indigenization.

Amid such evidence of his living memory, Catholics countrywide have eagerly awaited the peak moment of the preparatory work by the Joseph Vaz National Secretariat, headed by Bishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy. But the spiritual benefit of these efforts will be lost if election-related rivalry and recrimination invade its final stage. Church leaders should make alternate arrangements if they cannot ensure Catholics a prayerful atmosphere to celebrate their first saint without being hassled by election unrest or militarized restrictions.

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com 

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

 

Blessed Joseph Vaz will be proclaimed Saint Jan. 14‎

Pope Francis announced on Monday that Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Sri Lanka, will be declared saint on Jan. 14, 2015, Vatican News reported.

Read full report

Wish for Pope Francis’ visit to Madhu to reconcile Church and nation

Screen shot of the logo of Pope Francis' January 12-15 visit to Sri Lanka 2015 discussed on the website of the Archdiocese of Colombo http://www.archdioceseofcolombo.com/inner.php?news_id=369

Screen shot of the logo of Pope Francis’ January 12-15 visit to Sri Lanka 2015 discussed on the website of the Archdiocese of Colombo http://www.archdioceseofcolombo.com/inner.php?news_id=369

The reported visit of Pope Francis to the Shrine of Madhu in Northern Sri Lanka in January is seen as a logistical challenge,  an opportunity for the charismatic head of the Catholic Church to raise awareness of the plight of victims of the 26-year civil war in the country that ended in 2009, and a way to ease tension in a divided Church and nation.

The supposed planned visit revealed earlier this month by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, awaits the Vatican’s official announcement.

Italian La Stampa newspaper’s Vatican Insider website discusses Cardinal Malcom’s announcement of the visit to the Marian Shrine, logistical problems surrounding such a journey and its significance to resolving division among Sri Lanka clergy and Church members as well as to people’s quest for national reconciliation.

More on this in Sri Lanka: Pope Francis will go among the Tamils

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Pope Francis to visit Madhu Shrine, spend time with war victims, orphans? – Sri Lanka web news

Archdiocese of Colombo website photo

screenshot – Archdiocese of Colombo website photo

Pope Francis would visit the historical Madhu Shrine during his stay in Sri Lanka in January next year, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo reportedly announced in Madhu.

The Pope will arrive in Sri Lanka on the 13th of January 2015, and celebrate mass at the Galle Face Green on the 14th morning before heading to Mannar District in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, reported EyeSriLanka online newspaper.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the district of Mannar is considered one the holiest Catholic shrine in Sri Lanka, and is a place of worship for both the Sinhalese and the Tamils and has been considered a symbol of unity between the two communities.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph, said Pope Francis would visit the Madhu shrine during his January visit and bless the war victims at a special mass at the shrine.

Bishop Joseph along with Cardinal Ranjith blessed thousands of pilgrims who gathered there from various parts of the island for the August festival last Friday, Aug. 15 . 

“Pope Francis will be the first Pope to travel out of Colombo,” Bishop Joseph is quoted saying. The Pope is expected to interact with the war widows, disabled persons and orphans, he added.

Read EyeSriLanka report

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