05/19/2021, 17.35
SRI LANKA
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Remembering lives torn by war

by Melani Manel Perera

The Sri Lankan government marked Victory Day yesterday, the day when, on 18 May 2009, three decades of civil war came to an end. For the people of northern and north-eastern Sri Lanka, it was instead a day of remembrance for the victims of the war.

Colombo (Asia News) – On 18 May 2009, Sri Lanka’s civil war came to an end. Since then, the Sri Lankan government has celebrated the event as Victory Day.

In northern and north-eastern Sri Lanka, that same day is marked as “a day of remembrance for the victims of war”. The local Catholic bishops commemorated the anniversary last night. For the occasion, other Christian groups and civil society organisations organised ceremonies and discussions via zoom.

To highlight the anniversary, Bishops Justin Gnanapragasam of Jaffna, Emmanuel Fernando of Mannar, Noel Emmanuel of Trincomalee, and Joseph Ponniah of Batticaloa signed an open letter providing guidelines for all those who wished to commemorate war victims in the current COVID-19 situation.

In their message, the bishops note that parish priests, religious communities, and leaders of religious institutions should ring the Angelus at 6 pm and call the faithful to pray. They should also ask believers to lit a special oil lamp or candle, observe two minutes of silence, and perform a silent prayer for those who were killed, mutilated or suffered in other ways.

Mentioning the 18 May commemoration, which is also 12th anniversary of the Mullivaikal genocide, the north-eastern bishops said that, as survivors and witnesses of the last phase of the war and the previous decades mourn their dead, they are entitled to remember and take part in the process of redress rather than remain passive.

The prelates go on to urge Tamils in in the north and east to mark 18 May as a day of remembrance and prayer. “Let us remember and pray for all those who lost their lives as a result of long decades of war and unrest in Sri Lanka. Let us join those seeking justice for the crimes that were committed,” the bishops said.

On social media, Father Mawulis, parish priest at St Mary's Church, said that “18 May is a day full of pain for Tamil people. [. . .] a day when the voice of the people was silenced in the Tamil’s struggle for their rights. Even today, Tamil people live helplessly without their siblings, children and spouses.”

Bishop Gnanapragasam of Jaffna and several priests observed together two minutes of silence. Bringing various torches, they lit a large torch to remember the dead, recited a silent prayer, and rang a bell for the repose of those who died.

Anthony Jesudasan, a Tamil human rights activist in Negombo, took part in the memorial ceremony held in northern Sri Lanka via zoom.

The “current government,” he told AsiaNews, “has been unable to meet the demands of mothers who for four years have been trying to find out what happened to those who went missing during the war.”

This “government has no programme for transitional justice or reconciliation. We therefore call on the government and those responsible to pay attention to this and to bring justice to those who suffered as a result of the war.”

The Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM, a multi-Christian movement, held a commemoration online last night, from 6.00 pm to 6.45 pm, with the participation of its members and other people concerned about the victims of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Participants at the CSM-sponsored event observed a moment of silence, lit lamps and candles, and listened to a CSM members, a female journalist, speak about the bitter experience of war. The Gospel was read during the meeting. A priest gave his reflections and sang a hymn. Intercessions were offered and the Lord’s prayer was recited.

“We have come because we thirst for justice,” said Mahinda Namal. “We Christians have a part to play. In the days of justice, let us ask God to give us strength.”

Speaking to AsiaNews, CSM coordinator Sister Rasika Peiris expressed the desire “to be one with our people in the north and the east, commemorating the Mullivaikkal genocide.” To this end, “let us join hands to remember those who were killed in the final phase of the war.”

“In taking a stand in favour of the oppressed,” she added, “we believe we can be a powerful force to make people aware of the root causes of the conflict, and thus find a political solution to build together a reconciled pluri-national Sri Lanka.”

The bishops of the Church of Ceylon, the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM), and the National Peace Council (NPC) issued statements yesterday giving their fullest support to the call by the bishops of the Diocese of Jaffna to remember those who died during the war.

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