07/23/2008, 00.00
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Bombings intensify, "Our Lady of Madhu" moved

by Melani Manel Perera
Fighting and bombings in the area have required the statue of the Virgin Mary to be moved to the bishop's residence. The intensification of the conflict is forcing tens of thousands of refugees to live under the trees and in the jungle.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The statue of Our Lady of Madhu was taken yesterday from the church of Thevanpiddi to the private chapel in the bishop's residence. Rayappu Joseph, bishop of Mannar, explains that this was done for "security reasons" due the intensification of the conflict in the areas of Thavanpiddi and Vellankulam, where the priests were also advised to leave.

Bishop Rayappu has launched "an appeal to all our people to earnestly pray for peace in our dear land and for the day when we all can get together as one family at the feet of our dear Mother, Our Lady of Madhu", after she is brought back to the shrine from which she was taken because it has become an area of heavy fighting.

The website of the defense ministry explains that the statue was taken away in an ambulance, accompanied by Rev Peter Arulnadan, Fr Sathyapillai Emaliyanuspillai, and Sister Idha Thomas, after insistent requests from the faithful who were worried about the safety of the statue, which is the object of great devotion on the part of the Sinhalese of every religion and ethnicity. Thousands of pilgrims come to the shrine each year, especially during the ten-day celebration in August. But since 1999, the rebels have controlled the area of the shrine, and the visits have decreased significantly. The state has now repaired the shrine from the damage it received under fire.

Bishop Rayappu observes that "due to the escalation of the war in the un-cleared area in Madhu and Manthai during the past months in the district of Mannar, thousands of families have been displaced several times and had moved into the Vellankullam-Thevanapiddy area. The plight of these displaced people is very pathetic and their sufferings beyond description. These displaced people have again come under threat and due to heavy shellings are on their way to possible interim locations. Most of these people are living under trees alone the road and in the nearby jungles and their situation is heartrending."

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