Mannar (AsiaNews) - More than 5,000 people, Christians, Muslims and Hindus, lay people, members of the clergy and Senior and junior Tamil politicians, gathered yesterday at the Cathedral of St Sebastian in Mannar to show their support and express their solidarity with Mgr Rayappu Joseph, bishop of Mannar (Northern Province), against the "vile comments" of the Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen.
In a recent statement in parliament, the minister accused the bishop of stirring the Tamil population in his region against Muslims. He even compared the bishop to the Ven Innamaluwe Sumangala Nayak Thero, a Buddhist monk from the Golden Temple in Dambulla, who in late April backed a group of Buddhists who attacked a mosque.
With people coming from around Sri Lanka, rally participants stressed the "extraordinary courage" Mgr Joseph puts in everything he does. At the end of the meeting, people appealed to the minister to apologise to the prelate.
"The minister, a Muslim, should be condemned for his statement," said Makkal Caddar, a retired imam. "We appreciate what the bishop is doing for all the people of Mannar."
Similarly, for Sister Jacintha, a nun with the Sisters of Charity that represented the Trincomalee & Batticaloa Diocese, the minister's remarks "undermine harmony in the population."
"We admire what Mgr Joseph does," said Mano Iankaran Sharma, a Hindu. "His dedication is incredible. He works on behalf of each one of us, Tamil, Sinhalese, Catholics, Hindus or Muslims. I have never seen a Hindu priest do the same."