Sri Lanka Bishop: My Diocese Is Destroyed

Reports 18 Parishes Are «Totally Kaput»

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JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, JUNE 1, 2009 ( The Bishop of Jaffna is reporting that his diocese is torn apart and many parishes are destroyed after the recent fighting between government forces and the rebel Tamil Tigers.

Aid to the Church in Need reported today the words of Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka, who wrote a letter describing the situation of his people.

The prelate stated that his priests stayed with the people «to the last,» till the fighting ended on May 19th, and one of them, Father Mariampillai Sarathjeevan, died of exhaustion while ministering to the refugees.

The bishop, who went undercover to deliver aid to the people trapped in the «safe zone,» said that 20,000 people died and 40,000 were injured as the conflict moved into that «small space of land.»

He stated that the casualties are due to the heavy artillery and shell fire that was used by both sides of the battle, and he criticized Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse for launching the final attack that «brought so much suffering.»

Bishop Savundaranayagam recalled a letter he wrote to the president in March to call for an end to the bombing.

Human shields

He also appealed to Tamil Tiger leaders to allow the trapped civilians to be given safe passage out of the battle zone. However, he reported, «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 prelate said.

Now, he said, there are more than 200,000 refugees.

The bishop stated that 18 parishes in the heart of the conflict zone are now «totally kaput.»

«I saw parishes falling one after the other,» he added. «I have no access to those places now — no people, no parishes, no priests, no churches.»

The prelate continued: «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.»

He explained that the priests are working to assist the refugees in Vavuniya, organizing Mass in the camps, visiting families and providing food supplies.

The bishop admitted that he is «sad and grieved,» but that they will be «OK.»

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