08/15/2009, 00.00
SRILANKA
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Feast of the Assumption: prayers for peace and northern refugees

by Melani Manel Perera
Catholics slam the “commercial and propaganda” use of the event by the government. The authorities have organised transportation to facilitate the pilgrimage by southerners, but have prevented displaced people from leaving their ‘welcome centres’. The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu must be a symbol of unity for the country.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankan Christians are celebrating the feast day of the Assumption with the traditional pilgrimage to Our Lady of Madhu, hopeful that peace will come to their country but with a heart filled with despair for the countless number of displaced people still herded inside government-run refugee camps in the northern part of the country. Unlike the authorities who appear more interested in the record number of pilgrims making the trek to the shrine, the faithful are more concerned with the difficult situation of those victimised by the war between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).

This morning the Mass of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was celebrated at 6.30. Many Christians and non Christians from the south took part in the ceremony.

As a way to promote the pilgrimage, the government is providing pilgrims with transportation, including from Colombo to the Shrine. The island nation’s main Marian place of worship is in fact located in Mannar, 220 kilometres from the capital, in a war-torn area that was under Tamil Tiger control for a long time.

Government sources said that the number of pilgrims visiting the Marian shrine has hit a record level since 6 August. Some 13,000 arrived on 12 August alone. The last few days have seen that number topping the 30,000 mark; all seeking “a blessing for the country . . . and peace”

For the government this is a huge business. Movement to and from the shrine has been guaranteed by efficient transport services (bus and train) but they are not free. Still Catholics have acknowledged that “never before has the government contributed so much” to the celebration.

Still a sense of despair is spreading among them for what is happening to so many internally displaced people (IDPs) in the north, still held inside refugee camps without an opportunity to take part in the pilgrimage. In a sad twist of fate people are saying that whilst “the owners (northerners) are under house arrest, outsiders (southerners) are celebrating.”

For Catholic and Protestant clergymen, for some human rights activists and for Church leaders in Colombo, this is indeed “not a time for celebrations” because “we cannot gather as one family” whilst the “tragedy of people locked up in refugee camps” unfolds.

Many faithful in the capital openly admit that they “hate the political propaganda” promoted by the country’s rulers to obtain “Catholic support.” As far they are concerned, “we should not mix politics with religious festivities.” If not, “the Catholic Church could be trapped by the government’s political games.” For this reason, they want “a solution to the IDP tragedy so that next year we can celebrate the feast day together, as citizens of the north, of the south or of any other place” in Sri Lanka.

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