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    » 06/06/2007, 00.00

    SRI LANKA

    Marian shrine in Madhu to become ‘peace zone’

    Melani Manel Perera

    In a meeting with Catholic bishops, President Rajapakse accepts Church proposal to guarantee safety to pilgrims visiting the island nation’s most famous Marian shrine. Christians but also Buddhists and Hindus rejoice, hopeful that these words of peace will not remain an empty statement but turn instead into concrete actions.

    Colombo (AsiaNews) – Catholics, Buddhists and Hindus, Tamils and Sinhalese, have all welcomed the statement by Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse in which he said that a ‘peace zone’ would be established around the country’s most famous Marian shrine in Madhu at least during the main annual celebrations dedicated to Our Lady. The Catholic Church had made the proposal following the escalating conflict in the area between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels. The shrine is located in a forest in the diocese of Mannar, about 220 kilometres north of the capital in a region currently under rebel control and so off-limits to pilgrims.

    According to the Catholic Sinhalese weekly Ganartha Pradeepaya, Mr Rajapakse committed himself to the ‘peace zone’ idea during a recent visit (May 29) with some of the country’s Catholic bishops.

    The Catholic delegation that spoke to the president included Mgr Oswald Gomis, archbishop of Colombo, Mgr Rayappu Joseph, of Mannar, Mgr Valence Mendis, of Chilaw, and Fr Ranjith Madurawela, director general of Catholic schools in the capital Colombo.

    “The government has taken the necessary steps to ensure pilgrims’ safety,” the president told Catholic leaders.

    If the ‘peace zone’ could set up quickly thousands of pilgrims might come to the Madhu Shrine for the annual pilgrimage on August 15, Feast of the Assumption.

    The ancient statue of Mary that is preserved in the shrine is an object of deep devotion. Following the 2002 cease-fire between military and rebels, hundreds of thousands of people began visiting the shrine for the main celebrations in July, August and October.

    “I am happy to hear the president say that he will guarantee the faithful safety during the traditional celebrations in Madhu Shrine,” wrote a Ganartha Pradeepaya reader. “But I hope that he will be able to ensure that the ‘peace zone’ become a year-round reality. In any event, as Catholics we appreciate his commitment.”

    Before this “useless war” began, Philomina Kannangara, 78, was a constant visitor to Our Lady of Madhu for 30 years. The Tamil woman told AsiaNews that “when the whole family went on pilgrimage to the shrine, it was a moment of great joy and unity. At least now I can go back for one last time before I die.”

    L.K. Karunarthna, a Buddhist from Colombo, also appreciated Rajapakse’s “words of peace.” But “let us home they are not just an empty statement,” he said.

    In 1999 the Madhu Shrine was damaged during clashes that left 35 people dead. In the 1990s it served as a refugee camp for thousands of Tamil civilians.

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    See also

    04/02/2005 SRI LANKA
    Mgr Gomis urges politicians to work for human rights and religious freedom
    In his Independence Day message, the Archbishop of Colombo stresses how peace and solidarity are necessary to rebuild the country after the tsunami.

    14/04/2008 SRI LANKA
    Bishops’ Conference calls for an end to violence around the Madhu Shrine
    In a press release sent to government and Tamil Tigers, the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka calls for an end to military operations around the sacred site. It wants the Marian shrine, a pilgrimage destination for the entire population, to be protected. Bishops back the decision to move the statue of Our lady of Madhu, dismissing claims it was under duress by the rebels.

    11/01/2011 SRI LANKA
    Mannar diocese offers proposal for genuine and lasting Tamil-Sinhalese reconciliation
    Bishop Rayappu Joseph and two priests from his diocese submit a report to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), calling for complete transparency on what happened between 2002 and 2009 as a step towards finding an effective and lasting solution to the ethnic conflict.

    13/05/2008 SRI LANKA
    Military to allow the return of the statue of Our Lady of Madhu
    Sri Lanka’s army accepts bishop’s request to demilitarise a 2.5 area around the shrine. In a few weeks, after the area has been cleared of mines and the temple repaired, the statue will come back in time for the Feast of the Assumption, an important moment of unity for both Tamils and Sinhalese.

    19/06/2007 SRI LANKA
    Bishops’ solidarity with Tamils forced to leave Colombo
    In a message published in two local Catholic papers, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka expresses its solidarity with Tamils forced to leave abandon homes and livelihood. Bishops call for respect of the constitution’s human rights provisions.



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