Colombo (AsiaNews) – Nearly 25 thousand pilgrims gathered the country’s most popular Marian shrine, dedicated to Our Lady of Madhu, August 15th on the feast of Assumption; to the sound of heavy shelling, pilgrims from across the country prayed “that peace may soon come to Sri Lanka”.
The Mannar diocese, where the shrine lies, organised a nine day novena, rosary processions and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. On the eve of the feast, Bishop Harold Anthony Perera of Galle diocese celebrated the vespers.
The following day, the Bishop of Mannar, Bishop Rayappu Joseph celebrated the mass together with Bishops Norbert Andradi of Anuradhapura diocese and Msgr. Perera. About 75 priests and nuns from South and North also attended mass which was celebrated in two languages – Tamil and Sinhala.
Father Jude Cross, director of Ampiam co-ordinating centre of Mannar reported that “According to the Uylankulam check point 400 vehicles of pilgrims had arrived at the Madhu shrine by 15 August feast and we could see that pilgrims had put up their tents around the shrine in the jungle”. According to both Msgr. Perera and Fr.Cross, between 9 and 10 thousand Sinhalese pilgrims - from the dioceses of Anuradhapura , Chilaw and Colombo – this year made there way to the sanctuary. Speaking via phone to AsiaNews the priest said that “the tension was there, when the shelling from near by areas– Pandivirichchanai and Mullikkulam….. could be heard”.
Msgr. Perera tells that “I could hear across the shelling sounds that both Singhalese and Tamil pilgrims were crying and invoking Our Lady of Madhu for peace when the procession going around the shrine and during the final blessing..”. “I could see the tears of joy and pain… continues the bishop – and I realised that these pilgrims, devoted to the Virgin of Madhu, had travelled far and at great personal risk in order to come to the shrine, through various check points along the road, I was deeply sad for their difficulties”.
The area where the church of Our Lady of Madhu lies, 220 km North of Colombo, is under the control of Tamil Tigers. One month ago the Sri Lankan Military and rebels signed an accord on a “No war Zone” around the sanctuary in order to guarantee the pilgrims safety during the main religious feasts. On August 10th the authorities re-opened the main road leading to the shrine, a year after it had been closed due to the worsening civil conflict in the area.
Despite the cease – fire signed in 2002, for that last year and half the Country has once again collapsed into a state of civil war. The Tamil tigers fight for independence of the North and East. The conflict has been ongoing for over 20 years now and has so far claimed over 60 thousand lives, 5 thousand in the last 20 months alone.