08/01/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Statue of Our Lady of Madhu could return to shrine for August 15 feast

by Melani Manel Perera
Bishop Rayappu asks for "adequate security guarantees" to celebrate the feast of the Assumption. If these are in place, the statue of the Virgin will return to the shrine. Thousands of pilgrims expected.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - There is great hope among the thousands of Sri Lankans, Catholic and non-Catholic, that the statue of Our Lady of Madhu will return to the church dedicated to her, for the feast of the Assumption on August 15, in celebration of the traditional pilgrimage. But a few days from the feast day, the authorities are still unable to guarantee security in the area, which is often the theater of armed conflict.

Jayalath Jayawardane, a Catholic and a leader of the political opposition, explains to AsiaNews that Rayappu Joseph, bishop of the diocese of Mannar, is still awaiting these guarantees before opening the shrine to the faithful. In recent days, the bishop expressed his trust that "it will be possible to bring back the statue and the priests and sisters who live here, to celebrate the feast of the Assumption". In August, ten days of celebration take place at the shrine, with the participation of thousands, both Catholic and non-Catholic. Bishop Rayappu has also spoken with Milroy Fernando, minister of public estate management and development, with religious affairs minister Pandu Bandaranayake, and with Jagath Pushpakumara, deputy aviation minister, receiving assurances that the military would provide security.

"Now", continues Jayalath, "Fr Victor Soosai, vicar general of Mannar, will discuss this with the regional head of security".

In early April, Bishop Rayappu had the statue brought to the church of Thevanpitti, after the situation in other areas worsened, with frequent armed clashes between the army and rebels.

The shrine of Madhu, 220 kilometers north of Colombo, has been a national pilgrimage destination for 400 years, and in 2005 about 400,000 people participated in this, including Hindus and Buddhists. Until a few years ago, it was considered a "no man's land" by the parties in conflict. But in the past two years, the war has no longer spared it, and the celebrations on August 15 have been very subdued. in 2007, about 25,000 pilgrims came for the feast of the Assumption: amid the sound of bombings, the faithful who had come from all over the country prayed that "peace may come soon" to Sri Lanka.

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