Developments unfolding in Sri Lanka over the last few weeks look ominously similar to those in 2013-14, when a surge in targeted attacks against minority Muslims and Christians went unchecked by the Rajapaksa administration. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella organisation for civil society groups, has recorded 25 attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned establishments since April, and the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka has reported over 40 incidents in 2017.
Despite protests from Roman Catholic leaders, Pope Francis has remained committed to his planned three-day trip to Sri Lanka on Jan. 13. The visit takes place five days after the country’s election, and some fear the results could end in violence.
New Yorker take on the election: “If a Presidential candidate refers to himself as a devil, chances are he’s in trouble. Last week, campaigning ahead of this Thursday’s election, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent Sri Lankan President, tried hard to endear himself to an audience in the northern city of Jaffna. The crowd consisted almost entirely of Tamils, the island’s largest minority, a community that regards him with suspicion and anger. ‘There is a saying that the devil you know is better than the unknown angel,’ Rajapaksa said. ‘I am the known devil, so please vote for me.’ These two sentences encapsulated the swift and intriguing fall of the once-mighty President.”
A number of prominent Roman Catholic priests and laypeople in Sri Lanka are appealing to Pope Francis to put off a scheduled visit, saying the government is using the occasion as propaganda to imply the pope’s support for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is seeking an unprecedented third term in office.
“Don’t force political issues on the Pope, don’t use his visit to Sri Lanka for political ends”: the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, sent out a clear appeal to the Sri Lankan government and the opposition. Francis’ visit to the country (13-15 January 2015) comes right before the presidential elections. Given how heated the situation there is, the Pope’s visit could easily be exploited for the purposes of propaganda, particularly by the government. The wounds of civil war are still fresh, there are still tensions between the Sinhalese and the Tamils and Buddhist fundamentalism and nationalism is ever present. The Sri Lankan Church has asked for the suspension of rallies and other initiatives linked to the election campaigns during Francis’ three-day visit to the island.”
In his trip to Sri Lanka, that will take place between the 13th and the 15th of January 2015, before proceeding to the Philippines, Pope Francis will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu and will thus be the first Pope in history to set foot in a territory where most inhabitants are Tamil. Francis chooses to touch on the sore point of the civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamil people that devastated the island for 26 years (1983-2009) and has left deep wounds.
Statement by Bishop of Colombo, Rt. Revd. Dhiloraj Canagasabey, on the violence directed the meeting held at the Centre for Society and Religion recently, during a meeting with the families of the disappeared.