Salesians Venturing Into Sri Lanka's Troubled North

Aiming to Rebuild Area in Wake of Civil War

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, SEPT. 21, 2004 ( The Salesians have sent missionaries to the dioceses of impoverished northern Sri Lanka, a region inhabited in the main by Tamils and anti-government rebel groups.

The northern and eastern parts of the island nation were the scene of a decades-long civil war, which led to poverty, unemployment and the displacement of the population.

After the cease-fire agreed to by the warring parties in February 2002, the north is trying to return to normality. The Church is also trying to help the population begin again, explained the missionary agency Fides.

In this context, Father Anthony Humer, the new superior of the Salesian Province in Sri Lanka, has agreed with Bishop Joseph Rayappu of Mannar, to begin pastoral work in the parish of Murunkan.

The place chosen to sign the agreement, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, is a symbol of peace and reconciliation for the Catholic community in Sri Lanka.

During the civil war, the area around the shrine was declared a «non-militarized zone.» The shrine, which is in an area controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels, sheltered many refugees during the conflict.

The Salesians have been in Sri Lanka for a half-century. They are involved primarily in youth pastoral care, with the hope of overcoming the prejudices and differences between the two ethnic groups — Sinhalese and Tamil — and building a peaceful nation.

The Salesian province has 60 religious and oversees 11 works — schools, shelters and parishes.

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