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DateLine Sunday, 18 May 2008

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Government Gazette

Madhu controversy and duplicity

How Bishop Rayappu Joseph and the Bishops’ Conference failed to get the LTTE to declare Madhu Church a no-conflict zone when the LTTE was in occupation of that area has come to light.

The demand by Bishop Rayappu Joseph that a peace zone be declared in Madhu now that it has been cleared of the LTTE terrorists is puzzling to everyone. This is nothing but duplicity and downright complicity with the Terrorist by Bishop Joseph.

The factual situation is now crystal clear. Bishop Malcolm Ranjith assured the gathering at Padua that the Madhu Statue would be returned and exhorted the people to be restrained and not agitated, to avoid divisions among the Catholics. He appealed to the media for restraint.

Father Sanjeewa Mendis’ report on the Padua Festival in Padua, Italy, where the largest number of Sri Lankans gathers, is indeed remarkable.

Thousands of Sri Lankans gather to pay homage to St. Anthony of Padua.

This festival, which I have attended during the last five years, concentrates on sermons delivered about peace and readings of the sacred scriptures.

This year there was a remarkable difference, as two important Sri Lankan priests spoke about the Madhu Shrine and the controversy surrounding it.

Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, with his usual sober mannerism and eloquence, speaking in Sinhala to the devotees, said that the Statue of our Lady of Madhu would be returned to the Madhu shrine when an agreement between the parties is reached, obviously the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE.

This clearly shows how our Catholic Church was on the defensive. It has for the first time defended the action of one of its Bishops in moving the Holy Statue of Our Lady of Madhu to another Church, not accessible to the Sinhalese and Tamil Catholics living in the South.

The move to take the Statue to an area infested by terrorists would have been another insignificant incident like civilians being killed by terrorist bombs which have become a daily routine in Sri Lanka.

But the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka was forced to issue a statement on the Madhu shrine as thousands of miles away in Italy there was a movement initiated by the Catholics to submit a petition to the Holy See requesting the LTTE to vacate the shrine and for the statue of Our Lady of Madhu to be enshrined in the church.

Our Ambassador, Hemantha Warnakulasuriya, was mainly responsible for this situation.

A matter concerning a Church should be the focal point for the Catholic hierarchy, but instead our Ambassador took a giant step to protect the Shrine by informing the Vatican about the situation.

He took the responsibility of the Church upon himself, and then moved the Vatican and the Catholics in Italy on the seriousness of the removal of the Holy Statue of Our Lady from Madhu and of the LTTE’s occupation of the premises.

The Madhu Church was occupied by the LTTE for a number of months. This was done as a strategy to prevent the army from advancing in the Mannar front.

The LTTE took cover of the holy shrine and started shelling the Army knowing very well that the Army had a Hobson’s choice. If they fired back the Church would have got damaged and it would have earned the wrath of the entire Catholic world. If they remained without confronting the enemy, the Army could not have advanced at all.

From the videos shown, it is clear that bunkers had been built within the Church premises.

These bunkers could not have been built overnight, and neither could the Church have been turned into a fortress within a day or two.

But the Catholic Bishops’ Conference or the Head of the Mannar Diocese, Bishop Rayappu Joseph, never issued a statement ordering the LTTE to move out. They became agitated only when the army moved within 2km of the Madhu Church.

When the controversy erupted, especially when the two Sri Lankan TV channels, Sri TV and Neth TV in Italy, took upon themselves, under the guidance of the Ambassador, to inform us Catholics living in Italy of the dangers faced by the Madhu Shrine, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference still remained silent, not admitting that the LTTE were occupying the premises.

They only made a casual reference to the fact that the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka were fighting each other.

It was only after the campaign of our Ambassador in Italy, and his impassioned plea to the Vatican requesting the Holy Father to make a statement that the Madhu Church should be vacated by the LTTE, did the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka react. We, as Catholics, are thankful to the Bishops’ Conference for having made the statement which we were trying to get the Vatican to make through our petition.

At Padua, Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, in his sermon, said that the Statue of Our Lady of Madhu would be returned if there is an agreement between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka.

But in Sri Lanka, Bishop Rayappu Joseph had stated that they wanted the area surrounding the shrine to be declared a peace zone: this is perplexing. The peace zone theory has been espoused by the LTTE through its NGO agents for a number of months.

This was further augmented by another LTTE sympathiser, Mano Ganeshan who openly supported Bishop Rayappu Joseph’s declaration about a peace zone.

If the peace zone is a must for the Holy statue to be brought back, then why didn’t the Bishops’ conference or Rayappu Joseph appeal to the LTTE, when they were occupying the area for a number of years and demanded that they should vacate the premises and make it a zone of peace so that we could visit Madhu without being questioned and forced to get LTTE clearance and even pay taxes to the LTTE. This would have permitted all Catholics, to worship at the Madhu Church? without let or hindrance.

Having failed to do so, then how can we justify the call for a peace zone by Bishops Rayappu Joseph when the Government forces were in full control of the Madhu Shrine? The declaration of a peace zone would only enable the LTTE re-occupy the Church.

If the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Bishop Rayappu Joseph were so confident of the LTTE, why didn’t they demand the LTTE to declare Thevayanpitty a zone of peace and de-mine all access to Thevayanpitty from Madhu so as to permit Catholics to enter without any taxes and security checks?

Obviously, the Government of Sri Lanka will never agree to a peace zone.

It will only agree to a no-conflict zone in keeping with the assurances given by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Holy See, when he visited the Vatican. The Holy See and the Vatican never refused or repudiated the condition of a no-conflict zone agreed to by the President.

Though Bishop, Malcolm Ranjith said at Padua that as representative of the Holy See, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference speaks in unison, in one voice, the second statement of the 21 April 2008, issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, does not speak of any peace zone, instead it demanded that both parties strictly adhere to the international laws relating to freedom worship, and the Sri Lankan Pilgrims’ Ordinance.

Therefore, it is obvious that the concept of a peace zone is another creation of Bishop Rayappu Joseph to create divisions among Catholics and the Catholic hierarchy, and even within the Bishops’ Conference itself.

As otherwise, the second statement, signed by Bishop Rayappu Joseph himself would have made the peace zone a precondition for the statue to be brought back.

It appears to be Bishop the duty of Malcolm Ranjith, to persuade Bishop Rayappu Joseph and the Bishops’ Conference to shelve the illusory peace zone concept and request him to bring back the Holy Statue of Our Lady of Madhu-not to engage in polemics - which would only help the LTTE to undermine the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka.

The agreement should be that the armed LTTE cadres should not be allowed to enter the sacred area of Madhu, and the security forces should have the right to enforce security, which is the duty of any democratically elected government.

If this will not happen, at the behest of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the wise counsel of Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, what our Ambassador feared, that is, that the Holy Statue would never be returned to the Madhu Church until the entire area including Thevayanpitty is cleared by the LTTE, will come true.

(Courtesy: Asian Tribune)

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