Colombo (AsiaNews/EdA) - The first bishop of the new diocese of Batticaloa, Mgr Joseph Ponniah, made his official entry (pictured), joyfully welcomed by his new flock.
Established in July by Benedict XVI, the new diocese was carved out of the old Diocese of Trincomalee-Batticaloa, which included most of the eastern part of the island.
Once under Tamil Tiger (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) control, the predominantly Tamil region still carries the bloody signs of 16 years of civil war.
Mgr Joseph Ponniah knows the new diocese well since he was born on 12 October 1952 in Thannamunai, Batticaloa province, where he has been involved in pastoral activities.
Ordained priest on 30 April 1980, he joined the diocese of Trincomalee-Batticaloa, where he worked as parish vicar at St. Mary's Co-Cathedral of Batticaloa (1980-1982). Afterwards, he served as parish priest in Vaharai, Veechchu Kalmunai and Ayhiyamalai.
In 1993, he earned a degree in Biblical Theology and the Pontifical Urbaniana University. He was rector at the Minor Seminar of Batticaloa (1993-1996), professor in Holy Scriptures and moderator at the National Major Seminar in Ampitiya, Kandy (1996-2001), parish priest in Thandavanveli (2001-2006), and since 2006 vicar general for the diocese of Trincomalee-Batticaloa.
Appointed titular bishop of Mons in Mauritania, he was nominated auxiliary bishop for the diocese of Trincomalee-Batticaloa on 19 February 2008 and received his Episcopal consecration on 24 May of the same year.
The diocese of Batticaloa covers a surface of 7,000 km2. Catholics number about 55,000 or 4 per cent of the population, divided in 24 parishes with 48 priests, and 84 men and women religious.