08/25/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Violence in Jaffna, justice and peace commission requests aid for the more than 25,000 refugees

by Melani Manel Perera
The Catholic commission emphasizes the impossibility of celebrating the traditional feast of the Assumption while the area is the theater of violence and massacres. Thousands of people have been forced to abandon their homes to flee from the war between the army and the Tamil Tigers.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The justice and peace commission of the diocese of Jaffna is not concealing its distress at the request to celebrate the traditional feast of the Assumption - two weeks after the fact - at the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, while the entire area is the theater of massacres and violence. According to a document published by the diocese of Mannar, there are 25,732 refugees, among Catholics (14,750) and the faithful of other religions or ethnicities (10,982), forced to abandon their homes to flee from the conflict pitting the army against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).

According to the commission, the entire area around the shrine is "stained with blood", including many villages that have been abandoned and in which it is still possible to witness an atmosphere of "death and desolation". "There was a claymore mine detonated almost inside the shrine area", charges the report from the justice and peace commission, "killing 17 persons and injuring many more, victims including school children, teachers and elders. Rev. Fr. Packiaranjith was killed by another claymore when taking urgently needed provisions to those displaced from the Madhu area. Many more died of claymores in the same Madhu area. We lost Fr. Karunaratnam too in yet another claymore murder".

The situation is becoming increasingly critical, the document continues, for the more than 25,000 people forced to abandon their homes: thousands "survive" by sheltering beneath "the branches of the trees", at the mercy of the elements and waiting for a "charitable hand" to provide at least a little food for their children. Many of them are still mourning for deaths in the family from the war, and are under "severe mental stress" because they live in constant anticipation of a possible "aerial bombardment" or the explosion of another deadly anti-personnel mine.

"In all civilized areas, even a wedding, fixed and already prepared for, is postponed if a death takes place in the neighbourhood, as an expression of sympathy with the bereaved. Are we Christians", the Catholic commission asks, "going to 'celebrate' in a selfish and arrogant manner and ignore the feelings of all those people? When the real and immediate 'celebrants' of the festival are in such turmoil, are we justified in celebrating the 'feast' there? Aren't our faith and the feast, its expression, expected to respect their feelings?"

Next August 27, the bishops of Mannar, Jaffna, and Anuradhapura, who are very concerned about the deterioration of the situation, will visit the war-ravaged areas and bring comfort to the refugees. The prelates are calling for support for the Church's work to guarantee aid and resources for the refugees.

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