On the Feast of the Assumption, hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Catholics were able to finally make the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, following the end of the country’s 30-year civil war. They were told to put away hatred and division in order to build peace.
Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith welcomed a crowd of 500,000 pilgrims to the shrine, where they took part in a Festive Eucharistic Celebration, after having endured the long trek through the battle-scarred countryside. The huge throng of pilgrims stood in stark contrast to the trickle of faithful who arrived between 1999 and 2008, when government forces battled with the Tamil Tiger rebels for control of the northern part of Sri Lanka.
“Divisions, hatred and suspicion among us must be over now,” the archbishop said, according to the Archdiocese of Colombo. “Divisions among us have caused the blood to flow in North as well as in the South. Never take up arms again and fight against your brother or sister. Thoughts of hatred must be cleansed from your hearts now and allow the Lord to fill your hearts with peace and forgiveness. May the peace that you share today in the Holy Eucharist flow into your families, work places, parishes and into your villages.”
“It is a blessed moment and day, that we come to Madhu Shrine, after the 30 years long war is over, which destroyed the lives of the people and the country,” Archbishop Ranjith continued. “It is in this environment all people belonging to different nationalities have gathered here today. From the days we remember, we came to Madhu Shrine without being conscious of our nationality, language or religion,” he said, citing the 400 year-old tradition of visiting the church.
He also remarked upon the presence of many Buddhist monks and other religious dignitaries.
Noting that the pilgrims’ tents are only a temporary place to stay, he said they are a reminder that our own life is temporary. He compared the divisions between nationalities, religions and languages to a kind of “imprisonment” in one’s tent.
“This war began not due to a clash between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, but mainly because we separated ourselves from one another and imprisoned ourselves in our own limited kingdoms,” he said.
The desire for division and power was an indication of the limits of the human being, he added, saying that the conflict indicated that there had been “no place” for righteousness and justice in the lives of Sri Lankans.
“A period of loss of humanity was created in Sri Lanka. Religion became a tool of selfishness. During the past decade, it might be correct to say that religion has become an external affair and a political tool for selfish motives. We cannot expect righteousness and justice from this kind of society.”
Archbishop Ranjith lamented an increase in “indiscipline and loss of moral values,” saying this makes peace and justice more difficult to attain.
He also noted that those in the refugee camps were not able to attend the celebration. He appealed to authorities to expedite their resettlement.
“Now it is time to put justice into practice, first in your life and then in the country,” the archbishop exhorted. “From today onwards, spread the message of peace and solidarity. Spread thoughts of unity and strengthen the ways of unity. Stop talking of divisions and spreading hatred. As Sri Lankans, we must dedicate ourselves sincerely to develop our country.”
Archbishop Ranjith presided at the Eucharistic Celebration with Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis and Bishop Thomas Sauvdranayagam of Jaffna.
Bishop Sauvdranayagam preached in Tamil that Catholics are happy to see the Madhu Shrine premises—a location that saw a shootout between Tamil Tiger rebels and the government—are once again a “religious zone.”
The premises have been “rescued from the clutches of war,” he said, also expressing hope for the return of refugees.
The Church of Our Lady of Madhu is centuries old and has traditionally housed a revered 400-year-old statue of Mary. The church, a key place of worship for Catholics in the country, had been under rebel Tamil Tiger control between 1999 and April 2008.
The statue of Mary returned to the Shrine in November 2008, before which it had been removed for its safety.
The Archdiocese of Colombo has also reported that a miraculous spring has been discovered near Madhu Shrine.
“Once again Our Lady of Madhu has come to the help of the pilgrims, reaching her after a lapse of time to pray at Her feet. Thousands of pilgrims have already come to Madhu to pray,” the archdiocese said on its website.