04/14/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Bishops’ Conference calls for an end to violence around the Madhu Shrine

by Melani Manel Perera
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.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Security is getting worse around the Marian Shrine of Madhu as clashes between Tamil separatists and the army continue. At the same time requests from the Catholic Church for an end to violence and for respect for this “haven of peace” continue.

In the wake of the recent appeal by Mgr Rayappu Joseph, bishop of Mannar, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL), which met on 9-11 April to discuss the situation, made its own appeal to both government and Tamil rebels.

In a statement signed by the CBCSL Secretary general, Mgr Vianney Fernando, the bishops reiterated the importance the shrine has for the entire population, whatever their ethnicity or religion, and called on the belligerents to prevent further damages to the sacred building.

Last 4 April for security reasons Monsignor Rayappu ordered the transfer of the venerated statue of Our Lady of Madhu to the church of Thevanpitti, which is in area under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE)

The decision has fed the rumour mill which claimed that the prelate had the statue moved as a result of rebel pressures.

The CBCSL has denied the allegations, stating that the prelate acted for the best. Thevanpitti, it said, was the parish closest to the shrine, adding that “the sacred figure will return to the shrine as soon as security made it possible.”

On 7 April Monsignor Rayappu renewed the request he made to President Rajapakse and LTTE leaders to recognise Madhu as a “zone of peace” and respect it as such by avoiding any military action.

In his last letter to the president, the prelate has said that the people of Mannar were drafting an agreement to that effect signed by thousands of residents to be presented to Rajapakse in a week time.

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