Bishop Encouraged in Sri Lanka After Fast

Hopes President More Concerned With Civilians

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JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, FEB. 6, 2009 ( A Sri Lankan bishop who prayed and fasted six days for the plight of his people now feels that he received an answer from the country’s president.

Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam told Aid to the Church in Need: “We have been contacting the government frequently to ask them to stop the war. We asked them not to use weapons in the ‘safe zone’ area because of the number of people there.”

ACN reported Wednesday that after almost a week of five-hour prayer vigils and refusing to eat out of solidarity with the suffering, the prelate believes President Mahinda Rajapaksa “has at last listened to his concerns and is willing to act.”

The bishop’s concern — as well as that of the international community — is a group of some 250,000 civilians trapped in the last corner held by the rebel Tamil Tigers as 25 years of conflict to gain a separate Tamil nation has reached its bloody head.

The Sri Lankan government has the Tigers holed into some 100 square miles, part of which has been designated a “safe zone” for the civilians. But aid organizations say the civilians are being wounded, either by the Tigers or the government or both, and are urging that they be released from the combat zone altogether. Meanwhile a food crisis is ensuing, as aid groups are unable to get convoys into the area.

The bishop stated, “Until now, nobody has been willing to listen to us. We decided to start praying and fasting in the hope that this would soften the hearts of those responsible.”

Church appeals

On Wednesday, Benedict XVI addressed part of his general audience to appeal for peace in Sri Lanka and aid for civilians. He made “a pressing appeal to the combatants to show respect for humanitarian law and for people’s freedom of movement.”

The apostolic nuncio of the country, Archbishop Mario Zenari, also called for an end to the violence and humanitarian aid for the thousands of destitute civilians.

The nuncio met with the president on Monday in Colombo. And it was this meeting that encouraged Bishop Savundaranayagam.

The prelate said he decided to end the fasting period after he observed that as a result of Monday’s meeting, the president “had acknowledged the Church’s concerns about ending the conflict and ensuring the safety of civilians.”

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