07/07/2007, 00.00
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Madhu ‘peace zone’ draws pilgrims

by Melani Manel Perera
Following an accord between the government and Tigers to spare the campus around the famous Marian shrine from clashes, around 3,000 people went to pray for peace. The local clergy hope that if the two parties keep their word, more pilgrims will go for the feast of the Assumption on 15 August.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Around 3,000 people prayed for peace in Sri Lanka on the occasion of the annual feast of Our Lady of Madhu, the most famous shrine of Marian devotion in the country. Celebrations took place on 2 July and unfolded peacefully, however it is hoped that more people will attend for the Assumption on 15 August.

The government and the rebels recently reached an agreement on the setting up of a “peace zone” around the shrine during the main Marian feasts that fall around the beginning of July and half-way through the following month. Madhu, 220km north of Colombo, is in territory under Tamil Tiger control and pilgrims may only reach it by taking enormous risks.

The diocese prepared for the feast with a novena starting on 23 June, praying the rosary and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. On the morning of 2 July, the bishop of Mannar, Mgr Rayappu Joseph, celebrated Mass together with 20 priests.

“Only 3,000 people came,” Fr Jude Croos, director of Ampiam co-ordinating centre of Mannar, told AsiaNews. “Most were Tamils from the Vanni and only 20 Sinhalese from Puttalam and Negombo.” The priest hopes that a higher number of pilgrims will come for the Assumption, when “we will have the support of the government and the Tigers” to guarantee the safety of pilgrims.

The call to make a Madhu a peace zone came from the local Church after the deterioration of the military conflict between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels in the area. The shrine is situated in a forest and even Hindus and Buddhists go on pilgrimage there. After the ceasefire agreement was signed in 2002, hundreds of thousands of people started to visit the shrine to mark the main feasts in July, August and October.

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