08/08/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Sri Lanka, feast of Assumption canceled for "security reasons"

by Melani Manel Perera
The bishop of Mannar has called off the celebrations at the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu. The decision was made necessary by the failed agreement between the government and the Tamil Tigers on the creation of a "conflict free zone" around the sacred site.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - There is disappointment among both Catholics and non-Catholics in Sri Lanka over the cancellation of the annual feast of the Assumption at the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, observed on August 15. The decision was announced yesterday by Joseph Rayappu, bishop of the diocese of Mannar, who decided to call off the celebrations because of the failure of an agreement between the government army and the Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE) for the creation of a "conflict free zone" around the shrine, necessary for guaranteeing the safety of the faithful and pilgrims.

In a document published by the diocese, the bishop emphasizes that the statue "will be brought back soon to its original place", the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, but that it will not be possible to organize celebrations "because of the lack of a security agreement between the LTTE and the government".

Bishop Rayappu has repeatedly called upon the parties in conflict to avoid fighting near the shrine, an area that is sacred not only for Catholics, but also for the faithful of other religions who demonstrate a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary. Because of the violent armed conflicts between the army and the Tamil Tigers, in April of 2008 the bishop had the statue removed and transferred to the church of Theavanpiddi.

A national pilgrimage has been made for 400 years to the shrine of Madhu, 220 kilometers north of Colombo. In 2005, about 400,000 people participated in this, including Hindus and Buddhists. Until a few years ago it was considered a "conflict free zone" by the parties in conflict. But in recent years the war has no longer spared it, so that last year even the celebrations on August 15 were subdued.

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