Colombo, Human Rights, Peace and Conflict

Christmas 2008 in Sri Lanka

Its Christmas day. For a change, I was at home with my family.

Early morning, I went for Christmas Mass in my parish. Many years ago, I had been active in the church, as a student and teacher in the Sunday School, as an Alter Server and in the Young Christian Students Movement. But I had not gone to my parish for a long time, though I have been visiting and staying in churches all over Sri Lanka, especially in the war ravaged North. I thought I will go today, as it was Christmas, also because of my family.

Unlike most people, I didn’t go to the crib in the Church. But I did have images of Jesus being born in a cattle shed 2008 years ago. That Mary was compelled to give birth to Jesus away from her home, as she and Joseph were forced to leave her hometown, while she was pregnant, due to an order of the rulers of that time.

I sat quietly in the church and said a silent prayer for the baby that I saw few weeks ago in Menik Farm, Vavuniya. She would be 40 days today. She had no name when I visited her. A baby born as her parents fled the advancing Army in Vanni. A baby who is forced to live in a mosquito infested, muddy and murky camp, as her parents are not allowed to live with their relatives, but confined to a defacto prison by the military, even though they are not charged with any crime.

The Christmas Mass was taking longer than the usual Sunday service, many prayers and long preaching by the priest.

There were prayers for the rulers and the military that they will soon bring about an end to the conflict with their ongoing military operations, which is on the verge of “victory”.

But there were no prayers for a negotiated, just, political solution that will meet aspirations of all communities.

There was no mention of a call for ceasefire by the two Anglican Bishops and three Catholic Bishops.

There were no prayers or mention of hundreds of thousands of displaced, men, women and children, with inadequate shelter, food, medicine, education, water and sanitation.

There were no prayers for children and adults conscripted as soldiers, their families.

There were no prayers for families of disappeared, those killed.

No remembering churches that were shelled and bombed, as they offered shelter to people fleeing the war, and no prayers for priests killed and disappeared as they were helping the war affected.

No remembering those tortured, those being detained merely on suspicion in inhumane conditions, worse than conditions that some animals are kept.

I wondered whether I was living in the same country, whether I was part of “one Catholic Church”.

Amidst my frustration and gloom, some gave me hope and inspiration.

A Catholic sister told me a while ago that she and a priest had shared about the plight of the displaced in the North during a Christmas Mass and asked people for their prayers and donations. People had donated more than Rs. 50,000.

After the mass, I visited three journalists being detained, one of who had written about children being conscripted as child soldiers just before he was detained. I went with a diplomat attached to an embassy in Colombo; she brought chocolates, and stood patiently in the sun with me for close to an hour, while waiting to get in. I will remember the smiles of the people we met and chatted briefly.

I also remembered the wife of one of the journalists, with who I had been in close contact. What would Christmas mean to her? What Christmas greetings, what Christmas gift could I offer her? Will my usual greeting, “Happy Christmas” have any meaning to her?

I met some Catholic sisters who were coming from the prison as I was about to go in. Several other priests – Anglican, Methodist and Catholic – as well as some other friends, who had got my text message, also told me they will visit detainees in the coming days.

So this is Christmas in Sri Lanka, 2008 December.

I could not help reflecting that if Jesus was to be born in Sri Lanka, he would not be born in the Church I went for the Christmas Mass.

It is possible though that Jesus might be born in a Church in the battle zones in the North, that offers shelter to people fleeing bombing and shelling from the sky and around them. Or probably in the prison I visited. Or in the house of a family member of a disappeared. Or amongst the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Happy Christmas from Sri Lanka.

  • Visaka Dharmadasa

    I totally agree with Ruki, what christmas ?, for the family in the Vanni and also the family of the soldier in south, when are we going to understand this how many lives we have to lose ??? what are we achieving, Peace in what sence, do we have peace in Colombo or Kandy for that matter, can we move freely?, Waht about he permanat disabled ? where are we heading ?? I remember Our Lady of madhu church, Chrismas mass, when can all peoples in this country can be happy, a day with out gun shots a Christmas with only crackers not gun shots, I truly want to pray for all gods to really bless this country and stop its bleeing.

    Visaka Dharmadasa

  • Hilton

    The picture of the situation posted by this journalist is not the one most people in Sri Lanka are aware of. There are people in Australia too who are totally unaware of the situation there and are shocked to learn about the disappearances etc. So far as they are concerned, the situation is not too bad at all.

  • TamilCanadian

    Thank you Ruki for sharing your thoughts on Christmas in Sri Lanka. It's a pity that at least for the call of ceasefire, not all the Catholic Bishops could be united. On the brighter side, people like you really inspire hope for all the people in the Island nation.

  • factcheck

    The observation of Ruki is not without exceptions. The Christmas message of Rev. Duleep de Chikera (Bishop of Colombo), published by transcurrents, gives an indication that is very different to what Ruki has observed. The message can be found here:

    http://transcurrents.com/tc/2008/12/post_191.html

  • Dear Ruki, thanks for your article, and "factcheck" thank you for presenting another view, one that shows that concern for the suffering is there in a mainstream audience in Sri Lanka if one looks to the people and religious leaders. I believe what Ruki has written is just one perspective.

    Many other perspectives are also present and I would like to see them shared in all their diversity, only then we will really understand the feeling and sentiments on the ground here in Sri Lanka this Christmas. I tried to submit my response last night but it did not go through, so I will try again now.

    …..or you can read it on my blog
    http://peaceandunity-bishan.blogspot.com/)

    Best wishes
    Bishan

  • punitham

    Ruki
    Thanks and Best Wishes for the New Year.

  • Subodha

    Wish you all a merry X'mass and a happy mew year. If we are to celebrate X'mass or what ever the event in a day there are no gun shots and no murders then we are not realistic to look in to this issue. Even in the days of Jesus, Lord Buddha or Muhammad, there were all these sins occurring some part of the country , some part of the world. There are particular reasons which are realistic for these. As intelligent people we have to find out the solutions for these problems while living in the same society and taking some part of responsibility for whats going on around us. We just cant point our finger to any one and wipe our hands off. So…. guys and girls, please celebrate the X'mass the New year having in mind that there are these unpleasant things happening around and we give our best effort to minimize those as much as possible.
    thank you

  • Sinthaamani

    Isn't there a way to stop those nasty machines from raining bombs on the frightened citizens, children below? Beautifully written…

  • On 24 December 2005, Joseph Pararajasingham, a TNA lawmaker was brutally gunned down, by the armed forces of the Sri Lankan state, inside Saint Mary's cathedral at Batticaloa, while he was attending a midnight christmas eve mass.

    When Mahinda Rajapakse went recently to the vatican to receive papal blessings, the vatican failed to ask him as to why the cold blooded murder was permitted inside the church, located within the military controlled high security area, and as to why the offenders have not been brought to justice upto now.

    Therefore, this Christmas season witnessed murder by cluster bombing of a convent at Mullaitivu, where the statue of Mary was shattered and remained with a broken head helplessly hanging upside down.

    But Christ continues to live. So, Have a great year 2009 with Him.

  • Chandani

    While I agree that the plight of the civilians caught up in the war is pathetic the writer has conveniantly forgotten the fact that hundreds of soldiers are laying down their lives because of this cruel war. They have not chosen to fight. Instead this war has been thrust upon them. It is the thirst for blood of the LTTE leadership that has put the Tamil people of the north in this plight. Every soldier wants to go home for the holiday season and spend it with his family just like the writer did this christmas. But for himthe call of duty towards his motherland is greater.

  • T.Douglas

    Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) bombed a convent named Holy Cross Convent, located on Paranthan Mullaiththevu Road, 600 meters away from Paranthan junction Tuesday night around 10:30 p.m., a day before Christmas. TamilNet correspondent who visited the site Wednesday morning witnessed that the attacked premises was marked with Red Cross on the roof. The nearby church also sustained damage. The SLAF deployed cluster munitions in the bombardment, residents who fled the site said. 85 cows of a herd a few meters away from the convent were killed in the attack.
    Dear Editor: I am forwarding for your Information and to the readers

  • T. Douglas

    Sri lankan airforce bombard and destroyed the cathlic church in paranthan on christmas day. Sri lankan airforce bombarded innocent civilians houses in paranthan and chased the population to the jungles and occupied paranthan on new year day. Congratulations on your cowerdice victory.

    [Editors note: Please substantiate your point about the Catholic Church being destroyed in Paranthan on Christmas Day. There are no media reports I have read on this and as the BBC noted yesterday, “There have been no independent reports of the latest fighting from the frontlines and it is impossible to verify either account of casualties.”]

  • T.Douglas

    It is very sad to note that the Catholic Bishops are silent in the attack of the Cathlic church and convent in paranthan.

  • Hetti

    Catholic church is active in Sri Lanka. It is not silent. The Laity in the church are silent. They think that the whole Church is only the Bishops. We must not politicize the Catholic doctrine. The Church is always on the side of the poor. On the whole , the Church in the South is suffering under the dictatorial regime of the SINHALA BUDDHIST. UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION. For mere sentimental feelings for a moment, The Church cannot betray the Catholics in the South.