Christians in Sri Lanka Pushing for Support

Sri Lanka’s government allocated funds to restore five churches in the northern part of the country, meanwhile sources say a party of Buddhist monks have launched an international campaign to gain sup
( [email protected] ) Sep 02, 2004 08:51 PM EDT

Sri Lanka’s government has allocated almost five million rupees (about $50,000 USD) for the restoration of five churches damaged during the country’s 20-year civil war, after several attempts by the Christian community.

“We tried to get funds seven times,” Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar told Italy-based AsiaNews. “Only President Kumaratunga heeded our appeal.”

According to the news agency, the five churches that will benefit from the funds belong to areas in the northern part of the country, the area most affected by the war that pitted the separatists of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil tigers) against the Sri Lankan armed forces. The rebels fought for a separate Tamil state in the north and east of the island nation as a way out of what they said was oppression by Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority, which is concentrated in the south.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesing, head of the United National Party, started the peace process in January 2002, but there has been no progress since April 2003. The fighting, which started in 1983, has killed an estimated 80,000 people and displaced another 800,000 leaving the country impoverished.

Sri Lanka’s Catholic bishops formally wrote to Milroy Fernando, Minister of Christian Affairs and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, asking for financial assistance in restoring the damaged churches. According to them successive governments have not paid as much attention to the needs of Christian sites as they did to those of the Buddhist and Hindu communities which have already been restored with government funds.

Meanwhile, the Voice of the Martyrs reports that Sri Lanka's Jathika Hela Urumya (JHU), a party of Buddhist monks, has apparently begun an international campaign to gain support from embassies and governments around the world for their anti-conversion bill.

According to VOM sources in Sri Lanka, members of the JHU have met with numerous foreign embassies in Sri Lanka. Some JHU members of parliament are currently in Canada as part of the Sri Lankan delegation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Summit in Ottawa on September 1-9.

“There is concern that they may use this summit to gain international sympathy for their proposed religiously discriminatory legislation,” VOM reported. “The world needs to be aware of the dangers of anti-conversion legislation, such as that being proposed by the JHU.”

VOM encourages Canadians and Christians around the world to express their concerns to government leaders, and urges Canadians to contact the federal Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Out of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people, 1.6 million or 8 percent are Christian.