The Church demonstrates and prays for the protection of the shrine of Madhu
by Melani Manel Perera
A moment of prayer and a peaceful march were held in Colombo yesterday, to ask the Tamil rebels to leave the area of the Marian shrine, and the army to stop its military operations. A new message from the bishops' conference: the statue of Our Lady of Madhu must be returned to the shrine as soon as possible.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - At Fatima Church in Maradana, Colombo, a long period of prayer was held yesterday followed by a demonstration to ask for both of the parties in conflict to restore safety around the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, so that the statue of Mary, venerated all over the country, can be brought back.

"We don't want war anymore, and we are asking for a political solution for peace", Fr Rohan Silva (OMI), coordinator of the event and director of the centre for society and religion, explains to AsiaNews.  About 600 people, Sinhalese and Tamil, took part in the demonstration.  During the prayer, the rosary was recited with special meditations and the testimonies of those who have recently visited the diocese of Mannar, in the north, where the Marian shrine is located.

The former administrator of the shrine, Fr J.B. Devarajah, gave a speech in which he asked the Tamil Tigers and the army of Colombo to clear the area from war manoeuvres.  The priest then reported that some thieves had entered the shrine and had stolen things from it.  The Tigers have denied any responsibility for the theft.  During yesterday's event, a press release by the bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph, was read, in Sinhalese and Tamil. The bishop is asking the faithful to continue fasting each Friday for the protection of the shrine.

Immediately afterward, the participants left the church for a brief peaceful march.  They carried banners calling for peace, at least for places of religious worship.  Speaking with AsiaNews, some of the demonstrators emphasised the importance of "being united in prayer" and the urgency of "the intercession of the Virgin Mary, that she may bring wisdom to our politicians, who must find a solution to this crisis".  Also present at the event were some Methodist and Anglican priests.

And furthermore, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL) reiterated in a new press release yesterday its request to the Tigers and the government to liberate the sacred area of Madhu, respecting the international law that protects places of worship.  "We strongly urge the Tigers, who are occupying the sacred precincts at the moment, to leave the Madhu premises forthwith, and that the armed forces refrain from entering the sacred Madhu area. The immediate withdrawal of the Tigers is all the more urgent since the venerated statue of Our Lady of Madhu, which had to be transferred to a different location due to reasons of security, need to be brought back and enshrined in the shrine, at the earliest".