Colombo (AsiaNews) - Challenging a government ban, priests, religious, family, friends and parishioners came together in Uruthirapuram (Kilinochchi District) on 17 May for a special Mass to remember a young Tamil priest, Fr Mariampillai Sarathjeevan, who stood by his people until his death, as well as the other victims of Sri Lanka's bloody 30-year civil war.
Despite a blockade imposed by the authorities and the massive presence of soldiers and police, scores of people still managed to gather to pray and lay some garlands of flowers (pictured) at the monument built in the young clergyman's memory.
On 18 May 2009, the last day of a civil war that lasted almost 30 years, Fr Sara, as his parishioners called him, died of a heart attack. He was only 41.
Exhausted by weeks without food or water, he died helping his community move away from a no fire zone, where thousands of people - including women and children - had been massacred by the military.
On the fifth anniversary of the end of the war against the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE), Sri Lankan authorities organised official celebrations in Matara, in the south of the country, in the presence of the President and the highest office holders of the state.
In the Tamil-inhabited north, where the worst of the fighting took place, security forces and police blocked access to many places of worship and buildings, to prevent memorial services for the victims of the conflict.
"Two days before the commemoration, some soldiers came to the Church of St Fatima Uruthirapuram and questioned the parish priest," Fr Terence Fernando told AsiaNews. "They asked whether outsiders were coming for our event. On the 17th, many soldiers were deployed on the road between Kilinochchi and Uruthipuram to control who came."
"Since 2009 the government and the people in the south celebrate 'Victory Day' on 18 May," Fr Terence explained. However, "Those in the north are not allowed to remember their loved ones killed during the war."
What is more, "Soldiers have desecrated and destroyed cemeteries where thousands of people who died during the conflict were buried. They have prevented people from building even small monuments."
"Instead they built a war museum and put up special monuments, especially in the extermination camps in the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu, turning them in attractions for tourists."
Despite difficulties and such a "repressive" environment, "the local population was able to build this small memorial near the church of Uruthirapuram," the priest said, "where Fr Sarathjeevan served as a parish priest."
"We inaugurated it on 18 May 2010, and since then we meet here every year to remember and honour the good shepherd, and those who died in the war."
Born in the small village of Bogawanthalawa on 13 May 1968, Fr Sara was the son of two teachers. He followed his parents from posting to posting until they got to Jaffna, their hometown. Here he studied at St Patrick's College, and in 1993 entered the St Martin Minor Seminary.
After he completed his studies in philosophy and theology at the St Francis Major Seminary, he was ordained into the priesthood on 14 May 2003, and became the parish priest at St. Fatima Uruthirapuram in March 2005.
As a result of increasing violence, his community was displaced, and Fr Sara went with them.
The authorities ordered all NGOs, including the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to leave the war zone.
Along with other eight priests, Fr Sara remained with his people until the day of his death.