Sri Lankan Catholics remember Civil War dead and missing
by Melani Manel Perera
At a monument for Civil War dead and missing, Catholic woman remembers her son who was abducted in 1989 by men dressed as soldiers as he was decorating a church. “We believed we were safe because the youth were in the church,” she said. Sri Lanka has the second highest number of disappearances with 5,750 cases.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - In the month that marks the liturgical commemoration of the dearly departed, Sri Lankan Catholics prayed for the dead and relatives of victims of enforced disappearances during the country’s 30-year civil war.

The faithful gathered at a memorial site, built near the Church of Saint Cecilia in Raddoluwa, Archdiocese of Colombo, bringing flowers, lighting candles and praying for the more than 5,000 people who are still missing without a trace after so many years.

O. D. Patricia is the mother of a young Catholic man who was kidnapped on 21 October 1989 whilst decorating the church of his community for a feast the next day.

"We do not know what happened to him,” she told AsiaNews. “That evening some 20 kids were decorating the church. We knew about the dangers, but the parish priest had obtained a written permission from the military to hold that Church Feast. We believed we were safe because the youth were in the church. We could not imagine that we would be attacked.”

A group of armed men, dressed in fake military uniforms, came to the village. Claiming to be with the army, they searched for the men. The men entered the church, and took the young man away.

"We looked everywhere,” Patricia said. “My son is innocent and did nothing wrong. We still cannot understand how this could have happened."

As in previous years, the young man’s family visited the monument dedicated to the dead and missing, which was erected in 2000 by the Families of the Disappeared association. The pictures of 600 missing people hang on the walls, Sinhalese and Tamil, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians.

“This monument is a great consolation for our son,” Patricia said, as well as “other relatives, especially Catholics since we have our own day to remember our loved ones.”

According to the recent report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Sri Lanka has the second highest number of disappearances in the world with 5,750 outstanding cases, after Iraq's 16,000. However, most observers believe the actual number to be higher.