03/20/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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During Lent, practical help for the poor from the Church

by Melani Manel Perera
For years, the dioceses of the country have been gathering funds during Lent for scholarships, aid for the poor, reconstruction of houses, and medical assistance. The directors recount the initiatives already in place, and the plans for 2008.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Prayer, fasting, pilgrimages to commemorate Jesus' way of the cross, but also donations on behalf of the needy in Sri Lanka during Lent.  For years, parishes have gathered funds that the Caritas centres of the diocese then distribute to the needy.

Donations were gathered on Sunday, March 9, and on the following Palm Sunday.  Since Ash Wednesday, Caritas has distributed to parishes, schools, and other institutions envelopes and tills to collect the offerings, together with posters and informational material, to foster reflection on the theme of Lent this year: "I thirst ".  The results of the collections will be calculated after Easter, but many projects are already planned.

Fr Delix Santha Fernando, director of Caritas in the diocese of Badulla (15,790 Catholics in 19 parishes), tells AsiaNews that "Last year we received SL Rupees 132,120, and normally we utilise the Lenten Fund for providing scholarships for deserving students in the diocese. This year, the fund will also be utilised for providing medical assistance and financial assistance for major surgeries to the poor and needy in the diocese".

Fr S.S.J. Peppi, director of Caritas in the diocese of Mannar, says that in 2007 the 81,993 Catholics (in 28 parishes) gathered 43,177 rupees, which they used to provide 200 rupees each month for 176 poor Tamil orphans.  This year, they want to help needy students who have lost their means of support because of the war.

In the archdiocese of Colombo (629,199 Catholics in 126 parishes), 1,821,204 rupees were collected last year, used to provide 150 scholarships and assistance for more than 100 needy sick people. Fr Jude Raj Fernando, director of Caritas, plans to help those whose homes have been destroyed by flooding or other disasters.

In the diocese of Kady, Fr George Sigamoney wants to use the money for catechists and for the diocese's medical fund, which is mainly used to assist plantation workers. 127,911 rupees were given to this fund last year by the 85,000 faithful of 26 parishes.

The Caritas fund of the diocese of Chilaw is used to pay the salaries of teachers at a little island school run by Caritas, as well as for medical assistance and for home repair for the needy.

Caritas of Jaffna intends to buy food, clothing, and other necessities for the displaced people of the area of Vanni.  Caritas of Batticaloa wants to provide education in 11 welfare homesf.  The diocese of Rathanpura will also contribute to schooling for children. Caritas of Kurunegala will provide scholarships for children, and contribute to the construction of new houses and to medical assistance for the poor.

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