04/10/2019, 17.04
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Mass under the tamarind tree in Monaragala

by Melani Manel Perera

In the village of Siyambalanduwa, the church has been closed for years due to the opposition of Buddhist monks. The protests have also prevented catechism lessons. Alocious, 94, the first Catholic in the settlement, prays every day: “Please Lord, bring back our church to us."

Monaragala (AsiaNews) – For years, Catholics in Siyambalanduwa have celebrated Mass outdoors, under a tamarind tree. They have been unable to use their church because of opposition by local Buddhists; yet, they still dream the day they will get their place of worship back.

About 30 Catholics live in the village, which is part of Monaragala parish. The main church is 37 km away. One of catholic residents is Alocious, 94-year-old Catholic man in a wheelchair.

"My greatest wish before dying is to attend Mass inside the church again and resume catechism classes,” he said. “I pray every day: Please Lord, bring back our church to us”.

Last Sunday, Fr Sunil Wijerathna, parish priest in Monaragala, travelled to the village to celebrate the Mass.

Most residents in Siyambalanduwa are Buddhist, but some Catholic and other Christian families live in the village.

Alocious was the first Catholic to settle there, married to a Buddhist. "My children follow the religion of their mother. I always pray to God to give us consolation.”

Fr Sunil explains that Catholics can no longer use the local church due to opposition from Buddhist monks and believers.

The Catholic community has never suffered material attacks, but it is the victim of constant discrimination by the majority.

Anthony Fernando, a village official, said that between 2011 and 2016, Buddhists organised various protests against catechism lessons and the kindergarten, waving flags and banners. During one protest, they burnt the cross on the church facade (pictured).

"We do not want any conflict with Buddhists or the members of other religions,” said Anthony Perera, another Catholic. “We only want our church, catechism and kindergarten. We are sure that we will get our church back and get back to worshipping.”

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