08/03/2007, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Catholics hope road to Madhu shrine will be opened

by Melani Manel Perera
Preparations for the feast of the Assumption start within two days. The local bishop reminded the government of its promise to open the main road which leads to the shrine, so that pilgrims may be able to go there in great numbers. But Colombo has said the Tigers are amassing arms around the church.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Members of the Church of Sri Lanka are waiting with trepidation to see whether the government will keep its promise to open the main road leading to the famous shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, to allow pilgrims to go there for the imminent feast of the Assumption. But the situation in the diocese of Mannar, where the shrine is situated, does not leave much room for hope. In mid-July, Colombo warned that the Tamil Tiger rebels had positioned weapons around the Church and killed 14 soldiers in the area, which has been declared as a “no war zone” at the request of the local bishop, Mgr Rayappu Joseph.

It is Mgr Joseph who has now appealed to the government to open the road that leads to the shrine, where preparations for the 15 August feast will start within two days. On 4 July, around 3,000 faithful managed to reach Madhu from the south of the country for one of the three major Marian celebrations held every year at the shrine. The Church expressed “heartfelt gratitude” to the Ministry of Defence for the security guaranteed on that occasion.

The shrine, 220km north of the capital, is in an area under the control of the Tamil Tigers, who have so far respected the pilgrims. Now, to allow for the arrival of a larger number of pilgrims, Colombo must give the go-ahead for the re-opening of Madhu Road – the main road leading to the shrine – which has been closed for a year following the escalation of the civil conflict.

The shrine is situated in a forest and even Hindu and Buddhists go there on pilgrimage. After the signing of the ceasefire between the Tigers and Colombo in 2002, hundreds of thousands of people started to visit the shrine for its main feasts in July, August and October.

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