Missing Sri Lankan priest's body identified

A dismembered body discovered in a bag off the coast of Sri Lanka has been identified as that of Catholic priest Fr Jim Brown who disappeared last August during clashes between government troops and Tamil separatist rebels.

The charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports that the discovery of the decimated remains has shocked an entire island community.

The body was found at sea in March but it was so badly decayed that formal identification only came late last month after DNA testing with blood samples from the 34-year-old priest's parents.

In an interview with ACN, the charity for persecuted Christians, Fr Jeyabalan Marisapillai, a close friend of Fr Brown, described the people's distress after the identification of the body.

The torso was found in the Punkuduthivu sea, north of Jaffna, Sri Lanka's war-torn northerly peninsula.

Fr Marisapillai, 40, explained that he had overlapped with Fr Brown when the latter was on loan from Jaffna diocese, working in Mannar Cathedral, south of the peninsula.

He said: "The people are very sad. They find it difficult to comprehend the cruelty of Fr Jim's death, his body cut into pieces and put into a bag. This is such an inhumane way to die."

Paying tribute to Fr Brown, Fr Marisapillai, a priest of Mannar diocese, said: "Fr Jim was a real gentleman, totally dedicated to serving the people. He was very hard-working and very spiritual.

"When the news leaked out that he was missing, all the people of Mannar went to the cathedral and started weeping. There were protest marches - the people cried so much. It was terrible."

Fr Brown's disappearance last August came at the height of clashes between northern Tamil Tiger rebels and Government forces, when the priest invited people to take sanctuary in his church of St Philip Neri, Allaipiddy.

When the building itself came under fire, Fr Brown helped the people to safety.

The priest and another man set off back to Allaipiddy two weeks later but never returned.

Tamil media claim he disappeared after being interrogated by the Sri Lanka Army at a check-point. They say his body was found in a military sandbag.

Fr Brown's disappearance sparked protests and demonstrations led by Fr Brown's bishop, Dr Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna.

In an interview with ACN last September, three weeks after Fr Brown's disappearance, Bishop Savundaranayagam said: "I am worried about the safety of my priests. They are my co-workers. We cannot lose our priests."

Fr Marisapillai said Fr Brown's death had exacerbated the widespread trauma caused by the on-going civil conflict and the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which devastated entire communities along much of Sri Lanka's coastline.

SRI LANKA: Fr Jim Brown found in a body bag (Aid to the Church in Need, 14/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Jim Brown (Asia Human Rights Commission Hong Kong

Sri Lanka priest in miracle escape (CathNews, 12/9/06)
Sri Lankan priest disappears as civilian toll mounts (CathNews, 25/8/06)
Caritas calls for pressure as Sri Lankan church bombed, schoolgirls killed (CathNews, 17/8/06)
Sri Lanka ceasefire in tatters (CathNews, 11/8/06)
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)

15 Jun 2007