Sri Lanka: bishops urge release 300,000 ethnic Tamils
Monday, August 17, 2009
MADHU, Sri Lanka (CNS) -- Two Sri Lankan bishops, celebrating Mass at the nation's most popular shrine, called for the release of nearly 300,000 ethnic Tamils still detained in camps in the north of their country.
The Sri Lankan government currently detained 300,000 Tamils (including 60 children ) in Nazi like concentration camps. This is in violation with national and international laws. Many humanitarian organization repeatedly called for release of these civilians.
Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna, the diocese hardest hit during more than 25 years of civil war, said the Sri Lankans -- detained in displacement camps since May as government forces sought to weed out fleeing Tamil Tiger rebels -- were "behind barbed wire like prisoners and suffer many hardships with this rain."
The bishop spoke to approximately 100,000 pilgrims who traveled to Our Lady of Madhu shrine in northern Sri Lanka to celebrate the Aug. 15 feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. About 30,000 Catholics -- including church choir members and altar servers from the area around the shrine -- could not attend because they remained in the camps.
The Asian church news agency UCA News reported earlier that Catholics in the camps planned to celebrate the Marian feast in temporary worship venues erected with the military's permission or under trees. About six priests from northern Sri Lanka remain detained in the camps.
During the civil war, the neighborhood around Our Lady of Madhu shrine was often the scene of fierce fighting. It currently is surrounded by barbed wire, and land-mine warnings are posted nearby.
Only about 500 people were able to make it to the shrine last year for the feast of the Assumption. This year, the government opened roads to the shrine, located in the Mannar Diocese.
During the Mass, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo called on government officials to begin resettling the detainees. He said the "beautiful occasion" could have been an "occasion of unity" if everyone had been allowed to come.
In July, Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar had asked state officials and the military to release civilians, especially Catholics, from the detention camps. The request was denied, with the government saying that the screening of people in the camps was not yet complete.
Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops