Bishop in Sri Lanka gives account of people's trauma
The bishop in Sri Lanka closest to the heart of the fighting has given a dramatic account of the people’s suffering and described how his priests were determined to stay with them “to the last.”
In an emotional message sent to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna told how one priest died of “exhaustion” as he tried to minister to the people trapped as the final battle raged between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Tamil Tigers.
The bishop, who in January went undercover to deliver aid in the conflict zone, claims that in the final battle ending on May 19th, 20,000 people died and 40,000 were injured as a “small space of land” fell victim to heavy artillery and shell fire. He attributes the high number of deaths and casualties to both sides using heavy artillery and rockets – even though government forces claimed to have stopped using heavy weapons on April 27th and have said no civilians were killed by government forces during the final assault.
Criticizing Sri Lankan President Mahinde Rajapakse for initiating a final push which “brought so much suffering,” the bishop went on to speak out against the Tamil Tigers. The bishop, who in March wrote to the President to stop the bombing, described how he had begged rebel Tamil Tiger leaders to allow people trapped close to the battle zone to be given safe passage to a place of sanctuary in government-held territory.
Sadly, Bishop Savundaranayagam pleas were to no avail. He wrote: “The hardest part was that the [Tamil] Tigers used the people – civilians – as shields….I pleaded with them to allow the civilians to go to any place of safety in the Government side but they did not listen to it.”
The bishop paid tribute to Fr. Sarathjeevan, the priest who lost his life helping people in the refugee camps, and praised other priests for their work among those worst affected. Writing that he wanted ACN to understand “the cause of [my] suffering,” he described how there are now more than 200,000 refugees and that 18 parishes in Kilinochy and Mullaitivu were now “totally kaput.”
Describing these two regions at the heart of the fighting, he wrote, “I saw parishes falling one after the other. I have no access to those places now – no people, no parishes, no priests, no churches….Some of my priests were staying till the last with the people and were rescued by the Army. They are still in the refugee camps.”
The bishop also described how the priests in Kilinochy and Mullaitivu are now trying to assist civilian refugees in the nearby town of Vavuniya. The priests, he explained, organize Mass on Sundays in the camps, carry out family visits and give away food supplies.
Bishop Savundaranayagam ended his letter to Aid to the Church in Need saying, “Though sad and grieved, I am OK. God bless you.”
With picture of Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka (Photo: ACN)
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