05/27/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Father Sarathjeevan dies on the last day of fighting among refugees in the No Fire Zone

by 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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