Sri Lankan Bishop describes Church attack, calls for forgiveness

A Sri Lankan Bishop has written to the Holy See, Sydney's Cardinal George Pell and other Church and civic leaders detailing a lethal attack on a Catholic Church in a Sri Lankan Tamil village.

In the lengthy letter, he accuses the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) for last week's attack on the Our Lady of Victory Church, the biggest church in Sri Lanka, which killed several civilians.

AsiaNews reports that according to the Bishop, the civilians were killed on the early morning on 17 June, when the SLN went on a rampage immediately after a naval battle with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) off the shores of Pesalai, Mannar district.

The Bishop said the SLN executed five fishermen who had just returned to the seashore by shooting them point-blank. Then, "firing blindly", they headed for the church, where around 3,000 villagers had sought refuge from earlier attacks by the police.

The troops surrounded the church, fired inside and threw in grenades, killing a 75-year-old woman and wounding scores of people. The government later blamed the LTTE, which denied responsibility for the attack. The victims were of different faiths: three Catholics, two Hindus and a Muslim.

At the funeral mass of the six victims held on 18 June, Bishop Joseph called the faithful to forgiveness. In the letter, Bishop Joseph related the service and said: "We buried the six civilians murdered by the Navy… and I spoke of Jesus Christ cruelly crucified and his eternal words, 'Father forgive them for they do not know what thy do'.

"It is this power of forgiveness, I said, that made Him rise again and reminded the people of this hope that enlightens us even at this hour of darkness."

Bishop Joseph said the funeral was followed by a day of penance and prayer on Monday 19 June, and a ceremony was held in the parish church to purify it after the "shedding of innocent blood of those taking refuge in the sanctuary of their religion".

Saturday's killings have left the people of Pesalai more "mortally afraid" than ever of SLN troops, "almost all of whom are prejudiced heavily against the Tamil people", continued the Bishop in his letter.

He said civilians wanted and needed protection from the Sri Lankan security forces. "Their immediate expectation is that a neutral force should be brought in to take care of the security of the innocent people."

The Bishop organised a meeting between the Pesalai villagers and the local SLN commander on Saturday evening. The question of the civilians, he said, was "if even a sacred place like a church is unsafe, where else will innocent civilians find safety?"

The bishop urged the government and the LTTE immediately to halt all killings and murders through the intervention of the Norwegian peace facilitators and to adhere to the ceasefire.

Bishop writes to Apostolic Nuncio in wake of attack on Pesalai church (AsiaNews, 21/6/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Caritas Sri Lanka

Troops storm Church as Sri Lanka on brink of war (CathNews, 19/6/06)
Caritas calls for urgent mediation in Sri Lanka (CathNews, 27/4/06)

Bishop decries Sri Lanka attack (BBC News 21/6/06)
SL Navy desecrated island's biggest church - Bishop (Tamilnet 21/6/06)

22 Jun 2006