05/02/2013, 00.00
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War widows go on an interfaith pilgrimage to Anuradhapura

by Melani Manel Perera
Fr Nandana Manatunge, of the diocese of Kandy, took 45 Buddhist war widows on a trip to their religion's sacred city, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After almost a quarter of a century, their husbands, sons and relatives are still missing. Most of the pilgrims had never been to Anuradhapura.

Kandy (AsiaNews) - For the first time in their lives, 45 Buddhist women, who lost their relatives during the JVP insurrection, were able to make the pilgrimage to the city of Anuradhapura, home of some Sri Lankan Buddhism's most sacred sites. Fr Nandana Manatunga, head of Human Rights Office of the Diocese of Kandy, led the group, whose members come mostly from the city of Kandy.

"I do not care whether they are Buddhist, Muslim or Christian," the Catholic priest told AsiaNews. "I wanted to make them happier and stronger in their faith by taking them to a really sacred place."

"Our journey was a moment of great joy and fun," Fr Manatunga said. "It takes three hours to go from Kandy to Anuradhapura, and it was a very hot day. In fact, it was so hot that walking barefoot on the sand was painful. Still, no one complained and everyone enjoyed the trip. We sang sacred songs and played musical instruments."

Most of the women lost loved ones during the JVP insurrection almost a quarter of a century ago, their husbands or sons still missing.

Padma Ranjini, 56, has two daughters, who are students, and a son who works for the Sri Lanka Air Force. She lost her husband in 1989.

She told AsiaNews that the trip was "a great opportunity for me as Buddhist since I had never visited the sacred city before."

"Fr Manatunga's Human Rights Office treats us as if we were family members," she and other pilgrims said. "We are grateful for their support."

Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, Anuradhapura is one of Sri Lanka's ancient capitals.

Dedicated to Buddhism, the city is home to eight major holy sites, including the Sri Maha Bodhi, the ancient sacred fig tree that descends from the tree of the original Bodhi tree under which Siddhartha Gautama is believed to have achieved enlightenment.


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