The Sri-Lankan government has classified the Notre-Dame church in Madhu as a symbol of national unity
After the Civil War in the island-nation of Sri-Lanka (1983-2009), the Notre-Dame church in honour of Our Lady in Madhu the Mannar District became a symbol of reconciliation between two ethnic groups in the northern part of the island: the Sinhalese and the Tamil people.
More than three thousand people sheltered in the shrine, that was a neutral area, during a civil war that lasted twenty-six years. Understandably, the Catholic people of the country are happy with the Government’s idea to include the church among the sacred places in the country as they aspire to highlight the importance of the site during the civil war.
This year, the church celebrated its four hundredth anniversary. It had been moved from the district of Myanmar from the Jaffna peninsula in the sixteenth century to protect it from the anti-Catholic Dutch colonists.
Jesica Rodrigo —who comes from Negombo, a multi-cultural western town, commemorates the Assumption of Mary every year in Notre-Dame of Madhu with his family. This year, they and many others participated in a one-week-long event near the church where Mass was celebrated in English, Tamil and Sinhalese languages. Daily, the family of Jesica could join in the prayers and songs relayed over the public address system as they prayed for peace in the country and for the development of Sri Lanka. Together with Christians from the entire country, the rich and the poor, Tamils and Sinhalese celebrated together in peace.
A symbol of reconciliation in the country
In 2008, an anti-personnel mine, planted by the Tamil Movement of Independence (LTTE), exploded near to a Christian church. Twenty people died, among those eleven were children. During the civil war, the Rodrigo family, like others Christian families, could not go to the Notre-Dame church to celebrate the feast of the Assumption so they marked the occasion in their own parishes.
The Sri-Lankan people welcomed president Maithripala Sirisena decision to classify the church as a national sacred place. Fr. Victor Soosay, the general vicar of the diocese of Mannar said that many Buddhists, Hindu and Muslim people visit the church regularly to pray and to give thanks to Mary.
“There are many Buddhist and Hindu sanctuaries among the sacred places of the country. It was a nice gesture on the part of the government to include the church of Madhu among them,” Soosay said. He added that the Ministry of Religion and Tourism intends to build two hundred houses for the Christians who lost their homes in the Civil War.
Notre-Dame of Madhu is the most important Catholic church in the country. It was consecrated during the Second World War.
Mariya Jeyaratnam, a Tamilian mother, who was displaced by a bomb in the Civil War, sought shelter in the sanctuary, as did three thousand other people.
“Every time we had to take refuge [there] with our children – we were earnestly seeking shelter from the Blessed Virgin Mary,” said the 62-year-old Mariya. “There were a lot of people with us in the church. We were all united around the miraculous statue, and prayed until midnight,” she added. According to her, it is important to accept all religions equally.
For her part, Jesica Rodrigo is glad about the sanctuary becoming just as important as the Hindu and Buddhist places. She added: “During his visit, Pope Francis asked the Tamils and the Sinhalese to forgive each other.”
Source: Églises d’Asie