Batticaloa (Fides Service) – Peace is built with small steps say the Jesuit Fathers in northern Sri Lanka in Batticaloa, a mainly Tamil area for many years the scene of civil conflict between the army and Tamil separatists. “In Batticaloa we are seeing a miracle of reconciliation” Jesuit Father Paul Satkunanayagam tells Fides Service. In collaboration with the University of Canada Father Paul has launched a reciprocal knowledge programme in view of building friendships between Sinhalese and Tamil children living in this war-torn area.
The nine month Butterfly Garden programme consists of weekly group meetings for children aged from 6 to 16 at which the youngsters, led by animators, share theatre, music, drawing, study, discussion.
Father Paul is convinced that “in an atmosphere is serenity and creativity the children will acquire confidence in themselves and in others and in the world. They will learn to tell stories, recite poetry, act, paint and communicate without obstacles or prejudice. Peace – he says – begins with children, with their innocent eyes and their ability to give affection and friendship.”
The initiative is in keeping with indications given by the Catholic Bishops of Sri Lanka in a recent message in which they call on the government and the Tamil rebels to resume the stalled peace process and they call on all citizens of Sri Lanka to play an active role in promoting peace.
The Catholic Church is tirelessly working to promote reconciliation at the ground roots level organising programmes for education to dialogue especially for youth and children in schools, parishes and dioceses. Local Church members are sure that peace is possible because it is desired by the whole population exhausted by twenty years of civil war. The Church, having members among the Sinhalese and the Tamil, is in a good position to promote reconciliation.
Civil war in Sri Lanka broke out in 1983 and it has killed about 65,000 and left more than a million homeless. In February 2002 a cease fire was signed and negotiations were started with the mediation of Norway. After a temporary interruption of the talks, when violence resumed, new sessions of negotiations have been announced for September 2003. PA (Fides Service 3/9/2003 EM lines 38 Words: 463)