Colombo (AsiaNews) – More than 300 Catholic families cannot celebrate mass and teach catechism in the Rosa Mystica Church at Crooswatta in Kotugoda parish (see photo), about 15 kilometres north of Colombo, because of fear of violence by Buddhist monks and extremists. Since 2004 Catholic worshipers have celebrated mass in this church and recited the Rosary on Saturday afternoons whilst children have attended the Daham Pasala or Sunday school catechism. The church building itself was built in 2003 and extension work began in February of this year.
Fr Susith Silva, Episcopal vicar for the northern region of Colombo, told AsiaNews that the chief Buddhist monk at a nearby temple, Uddammita, along with other extremists, protested on September 28 against the construction, threatening that “if building does not stop by tomorrow, you’ll lose 10 to 15 lives.”
Father Silva went to court where the judge appealed to both sides to settle the dispute amicably and temporarily suspended the church extension. The parish has obeyed the injunction but this has not stopped the problems.
On October 6, police interrupted the celebration of mass and told Fr Siri Cooray to stop the function. Scared and wondering what was going to happen next worshipers were ordered home
Some 301 families for a total 1093 Catholics attend the local church. “Most are poor people,” said Father Silva, “and cannot pay for a taxi to the nearest church, which is several kilometres away.”
Catholics have now gone to court to be allowed to hold mass, catechism and other religious activities whilst the broader issue of the church building is solved. Buddhists have protested instead that this is an insult to the 348 Buddhist families living in the area.
Uddammita Buddahsiri, the Buddhist monk who heads Kotugoda’s Boddhirukkaramaya Buddhist Temple said that “most people in the area are Buddhist and they don’t want a church here. Catholics can go to the other two or three churches in the area. We are not going to let them finish the building. If it restarts the whole village is going to rise up.”
In light of this type of reaction it seems that it was not sufficient for the judge to remind Buddhists that every person has the right to practice their faith, nor that that Article 10 of the 1978 constitution recognises “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
Still for Father Silva “there are human rights which everybody should respect. All we did was to ask the courts for our right to build the church on behalf of our poor Catholics living here.”