Hundreds of Christian youths in Sri Lanka gathered for a three-day peace conference in the town of Vavuniya. Sri Lanka, a nation whose contemporary history has been marked by brutality and deep distrust between the various ethnic groups, is a deeply divided nation whose people long for peace.
"We are perturbed by the absence of any signs or efforts for strengthening peace,” said Rev. Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar, addressing the youth, at the conclusion of a youth conference in Vavuniya Saturday.
“Instead we only see increasing violence in all parts of Sri Lanka. We have assembled here to pray for peace."
In the nation’s more-recent history, over 80,000 people have been killed (including presidents and a number of top politicians), hundreds of thousands wounded, and nearly one million people internally displaced.
Internal divisions exist within almost all the groups as well as between them: between militant Buddhists and Sinhalese Christians, seen by the former as traitors; between militant nationalist Buddhists and Buddhists committed to non-violence; between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Muslim population victimized by guerrilla violations; and between various Tamil political groups. There are ethnic tensions even within and between the churches--the Christian Council of Sri Lanka has sometimes been accused of being too Tamil-oriented.
According to a past news release, the World Council of Churches (WCC) together with the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) has long been involved in promoting efforts for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Since conflict there escalated in mid-1983, the two ecumenical organizations have organized consultations and visits to review the situation and have called on their member churches to lobby and advocate with their respective governments to bring an end to the conflict. Staff have also undertaken regular visits to keep the ecumenical constituency updated on the situation.
The NCC-Sri Lanka (National Council of Churches in Sri Lanka) and churches in the country have consistently endeavored to build relations with the Buddhist clergy in order to promote peace and reconciliation. NCC-Sri Lanka representatives have been in contact with government officials and have visited the city of Jaffna on several occasions to meet with the LTTE in an effort to find an amicable solution to the ethnic conflict.
In Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese, making up 70% of the population of almost 20 million, are mainly Buddhists while the Tamils, constituting 15% of the population, are mainly Hindus. Muslims (7-8%) are seen as a third group with a special identity. Christians (7-8%) are found among both Sinhalese and Tamils.
According to sources attending the peace rally, a number of Sinhalese youths also participated in the event.