05/04/2016, 13.54
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Axes, ploughs, and pitchforks at the altar: Sri Lanka workers against forced labour (Video)

by Melani Manel Perera

The religious service was held at St Michael's Church in Colombo, with red flags and ornaments everywhere. Workers laid down their tools in front of the altar asking for God’s intercession for an end to the struggle and forced labour.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Members of the Christian Workers Fellowship (CWF) placed axes, ploughs, and pitchforks before the altar of St Michael's Church in Polwatta, Colombo during May Day celebrations, offering God the tools of their trade.

“The workers’ Mass is not a mere religious tradition meant to escape from the struggle we face,” some workers told AsiaNews. “We hope to bring a proper solution to workers’ struggle. For this reason, we carry forwards the struggle of the victims and end forced labour.”

“By taking part in this Mass, we ask for the Lord’s intercession and guidance throughout the world. His word shall help us support our demands until the end."

The Mass was celebrated on 30 April in three languages: Sinhala, Tamil and English. Hundreds of workers came from various neighbouring districts, to attend the service in their honour, a tradition that dates back to 1960.

For this occasion, the Mass took on the typical features of industrial action, with the red colour everywhere: altar boys wore national clothes, red flags and Sesath (traditional Sinhalese red umbrellas) in the church, music made with shells and drums, air suffused with the scent of incense.

"We believe that the Mass, as the symbol and anticipation of God's Kingdom – which will usher in a classless society – should be celebrated with the highest beauty of colour, sounds, and scents that reflect the best of our culture," said Ralston Weinman, an altar boy.

"To underline that all the earth belongs to the Lord, and that we can meet him in the life of every day, the workers’ Mass should be celebrated more often in secular locations and homes,” he added.

The service was also dedicated to the victims of the country’s civil war and the ongoing quest for justice. At present, US$ 450 million have been set aside for legal proceedings, "but still there has been no justice in Sri Lanka, especially in the northern province,” said Fr Marimuttu Sathivel.

For the Anglican clergyman, “the government is still occupying with 140,000 soldiers from 14 brigades a lot of land that belongs to the Tamils.” Conversely, “in Jaffna Peninsula alone, internally displaced people live in 106 camps.” Under the circumstances, “How can Tamils ​​ expect justice to be done?" he wonders.

The answer, according to Fr Sathivel, is "To approve a new constitution, rather than change the existing one. Only then can we resolve our problems. Only then can workers and the people as a whole live in peace ".

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