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    » 05/27/2009, 00.00

    SRI LANKA

    Father Sarathjeevan dies on the last day of fighting among refugees in the No Fire Zone

    Melani Manel Perera

    The 41-year-old Tamil priest was one of seven clergymen who stayed till the end with refugees trapped in the war zone. His friend and educator Father Manuelpillai remembers him. He spent his last days in a bunker, concerned that he could say Mass.
    Colombo (AsiaNews) – Fr Manuelpillai T. Sarathjeevan, 41, stayed with his people in the No Fire Zone till the end. He died on 18 May, the last day of fighting between the military and the Tamil Tigers, struck by a heart attack as he left the combat zone with the last refugees after it had come under complete army control.

    A Tamil, Fr Sarathjeevan was a parish priest in Kilinochchi, and coordinator for the Jesuit Rehabilitation Service in Jaffna. He was one of seven priests who stayed with the people caught in Nanthi Kadal Lagoon along the coast, trapped during the last phase of the war.

    He had been with the civilian population since the start of the army operation in Vanni. He died on the road, exhausted by months of deprivations and lack of everything under airstrikes and shelling.

    The attempt to save him by taking him to the hospital in Vavuniya was to no avail. The city itself is crowded with a majority of the 280,000 refugees created by the war. From there his body was taken to Colombo before a plane could take to Jaffna for his funeral. However, after days of waiting Mgr Thomas Savundaranayagam, bishop of this northern city, decided to go ahead with the final service.

    Yesterday colleagues of the priest, sisters and men religious from Jaffna, as well as members of Caritas Sedec bid Father Sarathjeevan farewell, first in a private Mass in Tamil presided by Fr James Pathinathan, then in a moment of prayer led by Mgr Oswald Gomis, bishop of Colombo, accompanied by the three vicars of the capital, Fr Ivan Perera, Fr Marcus Ferdinandez and Fr Cyril Gamini Fernando.

    Father Sarathjeevan’s body was cremated at the Borella General Cemetery in Colombo; his ashes will be buried in Jaffna later (funeral pictured).

    At the end of the service, Carmelite Sister Teresa Ranee, read a letter in memory of Father Sarathjeevan written by his friend and educator, Fr David Manuelpillai.

    “Following the footsteps of the Lord and master, Our Lord Jesus Christ, he said: ‘I will not leave my people.’ These words of determination and commitment from a person with six years of priesthood are exemplary”.

    “In the last few days he was upset about not being able to celebrate Mass as he had to spend a few days in the bunker without food and drink,” Father Manuelpillai said. “Ultimately, when he was able to come out of the terrible circumstances, he could not bear to witness the agony of his people and his heart failed.

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    See also

    21/04/2009 SRI LANKA
    Army issues ultimatum to Tamil Tigers
    Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry says rebels have been checkmated, announces final assault. Army issues warning, calling on rebel forces to give up their weapons. Tens of thousands of civilians are in flight.

    14/12/2009 SRI LANKA
    Young Tamils and Sinhalese meet for peace and reconciliation
    After decades of separation caused by war, teenagers from the two groups meet to share hopes in a programme for mutual acceptance and sharing.

    12/06/2009 SRI LANKA
    Jaffna bishop tells government that refugees must go home as soon as possible
    About 300,000 refugees are still living in dismal conditions. The United Nations, the Red Cross and Caritas are the only humanitarian organisations allowed inside the camps, all other NGOs are off-limits. For the Venerable Thero, a Buddhist monk and head of the Vipassana Meditation Centre, “Sri Lanka does not need foreign plans or advice. We won the war and we did it by following our own plans.”

    02/01/2009 SRI LANKA
    Army takes Tiger Tamil headquarters in Kilinochchi
    President Rajapaksa calls success a victory against world terrorism. LTTE rebels are now holed up in Mullaitivu jungle. In early celebrations in Colombo a suicide attacker kills three and wounds more than 30.

    09/02/2009 SRI LANKA
    Christians in the south pray for Tamil war victims
    Initiative called ‘Hope for a distressed people’ is taken in Colombo. Apostolic nuncio visits Jaffma and expresses great concern for Tamils in Vanni area. Suicide attack occurs in a safe zone reception centre. Mingling with refugees, woman blows herself up, killing 23 and injuring 64.



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