Thousands march in Mannaar, urge protection for Madu shrine

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 02 April 2008, 09:01 GMT]
More than five-thousand people of Mannaar city gathered at St. Sebastian's Cathedral Wednesday morning for an special prayer service and staged a peace march towards the District Secretariat and handed over an appeal, urging the warring parties, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam (LTTE) to respect the area of Madu Shrine as a 'Zone of Peace'. "Shells are falling within the Church premises several times and many of those staying there have been compelled to leave, while priests and the other church workers who are still remaining, live in fear and are being forced to seek shelter in bunkers," an appeal from the Bishop of Mannaar said.

Mannaar Madu rally
Catholics and people of all faiths take part in the rally
Mannaar Madu rally
Bishop of Mannaar handing over the appeal to the Government Agent of Mannaar.
Mannaar Madu rally
Mannaar Bishop's appeal in English
Mannaar Madu rally
Mannaar Bishop's appeal in Tamil
Bishop of Mannaar Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph, hundreds of religious dignitaries, and devotees of all religions staged the peace march from the cathedral through St. Sebastian and Bazaar streets at 10:30 a.m. and reached the District Secretariat located on Mannaar Main Road at 11:30 a.m. where the Bishop handed over an appeal to Mannaar District Secretaty (Government Agent) A. Nicholas Pillai.

Mannaar Bazaar remained shut down, public offices and private businesses did not function for more than 3-hours, during the prayer and the rally.

Full text of the appeal from the Bishop to protect the Shrine of Our Lady of Madu follows:

Apeal to protect the Shrine of Our Lady of Madu from all military presence and operations

The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a much respected and venerated shrine to Catholics all over Sri Lanka. For more than 400 years Catholics and as well as non Catholics have gathered around Our Lady of Madhu as a unique Shrine that has served the spiritual needs of Sri Lankans from different walks of life, different ethnicities, different religions and different areas of the country. For more than two decades, in the midst of the conflict and mass displacement, Madhu Shrine also served as a place of refuge for all affected people. Madhu Shrine has been recognised locally and internationally as a "safe haven" and "place of refuge" for people fleeing in the face of war and destruction.

The Church administration has always maintained the Shrine and the area around purely as a place of religious worship and a place of refuge for displaced people. It was strictly kept out of bounds for any type of military or political activity. In the last few weeks we have been extremely concerned that this sacred Shrine and its functions as a centre of spiritual and humanitarian service has come under severe threat due to the escalation of the ongoing military conflict. Shells are falling within the Church premises several times and many of those staying there have been compelled to leave, while priests and the other church workers who are still remaining, live in fear and are being forced to seek shelter in bunkers.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka, the Bishop and the priests of Diocese of Mannar have been appealing to the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army to refrain From using the area gazetted as the Madhu Church Reservation under the "Pilgrimage Ordinance" in 1982 for military and political purposes and to respect its sacred and humanitarian nature. Appeals have been made to the President of Sri Lanka to declare the Madhu Shrine as a "Zone of Peace" through a special gazette notification in order to ensure that the Shrine can continue to serve as a religious and humanitarian space.

Today, as military operations are taking place very close to the Shrine, we are compelled to make an urgent appeal to both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to respect the Madhu Shrine and the area mentioned above as a Zone of Peace, keep away from the Shrine areas and to ensure that the area remains completely and solely under the administration of the Church. At this crucially difficult juncture, we appeal to all Catholics, all Sri Lankans, particularly those who have a deep sense of belonging and devotion to Our Lady of Madhu as well as all religious leaders and the International community to join in our efforts to safeguard the sacred and humanitarian character of this very special place of worship.

For this intention, we will hold a special prayer service in Manner tomorrow, 2nd April stating from 9:30am at the St Sebastian s Cathedral. We Invite all our Catholics and people of goodwill to join in our cry addressed to both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to completely desist from using the Madhu Shrine for their military and political purposes. We also invite all faithful and devotees to fast and pray on Fridays and pray the rosary every Saturday for this purpose and for peace in our dear land. May our Lady of Madhu, the dear Mother of the people of this land bless our country with peace through politically negotiated settlement.

Most Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph
Bishop of Mannar

Mannaar Madu rally
Bishop Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph with priests and nuns
Mannaar Madu rally
The Catholic priests of Mannaar have appealing to the Sri Lankan president to declare Madu shrine as a "Zone of Peace' through a special gazatte notification for several months.
Mannaar Madu rally
Shops remained closed in the city during the rally.


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