ASIA/SRI LANKA - attack on church isolated episode: Catholic community hopes for a peaceful Christmas free of tension social or religious

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Colombo (Fides Service) - The recent destruction of St Michael’s Catholic church in the archdiocese of Colombo was an isolated episode which raised concern among the local Catholics although would not seem to be a forerunner to more inter-religious tension similar to the situation this time last year. The Christian community is calm and has no fear with regard to the celebration of Christmas. This is the analysis of the situation offered by Fides sources two days after vandals destroyed the little church of St Michael in the village of Homagama, about 20 km from the capital Colombo. Police are investigating the incident and Milroy Fernando, in charge of Christians affairs at the government Office for Religious Affairs, who visited the site, has assured the local Catholic community full support from the civil society. Suspects include isolated Buddhist extremist groups .“We were deeply shocked by this premeditated attack on the Catholic community but we will continue our mission. We ask the civil authorities to provide more protection and to help with the rebuilding of the church” said Fr. Ignatius Varnakulasingham parish priest of the Pannipitiya district which includes the church of St Michael which serves about 130 Catholic families with Sunday Mass, catechism classes and meetings. The church was devastated and then set on fire on 19 December. At about 1 in the morning unidentified attackers broke down the church doors, opened the tabernacle and smashed the crucifix before setting the compound alight with gas cylinders. St Michael’s has been attacked before, on 30 November 2003 and again on 15 January 2004 during a wave of anti-Christian violence started by extremist Buddhists promoting religious nationalism. The present episode would point to the same groups but the social situation is calm since the Buddhist factions demanded and obtained nine Buddhist monks to represent them in parliament.
According to Fides sources in the archdiocese of Colombo, relations between Christians and Buddhists in the area around St Michael’s Church have always been difficult because of the presence of traditionalist Buddhists who many years ago displayed their hostility towards the first Christian communities. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 21/12/2004 righe 32 parole 332)