04/02/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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4,000 against war manoeuvres at the Shrine of our Lady of Madhu

by Melani Manel Perera
Today at the Cathedral of St Sebastian, thousands of faithful responded to the call from the bishop of Mannar for a day of prayer and peaceful protest against the escalation of violence around the shrine. A local mission house has also been struck in recent days.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The Church in Sri Lanka is launching a strong appeal to the government and to the Tamil rebels, that they respect the area of the Marian shrine in Madhu, the theatre of an escalation in military operations that have also struck a few Christian sites in the area.  The alarm has been raised by the bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph, who at the same time has delivered a joint memorandum to the local authorities, already forwarded to president Rajapakse and to the leaders of the Tamil Tigers.

To emphasize the urgency of the situation, today at the Cathedral of St Sebastian in Mannar 4,000 people gathered to respond to the bishop's call for a day of prayer. Fr Arul Raj, the assistant to the pastor of the cathedral, explains to AsiaNews: "We have invited all Catholics and people of goodwill to join in our cry addressed to both the government of Sri Lanka and the Tigers to completely desist from using the Madhu Shrine for their military and political purposes".

Yesterday, the defence minister spoke about mortar fire launched by the rebels against the shrine.  The hospital of Murunkan was also struck, together with a local mission house.  But it is not known who was responsible for the latter attack.  At the time, there were three priests, four sisters, and six laypeople at the Marian shrine.

Finally, in his letter Bishop Joseph sets next Friday, April 4, as a day of prayer and fasting, and asks for the recitation of the rosary each Saturday, "for peace in our dear land".

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