Sri Lanka Church Attack Reported to Vatican

A report about the Sri Lankan Roman Catholic Church said to have been attacked by the country’s navy was to be delivered to the Vatican representative in Sri Lanka on Friday.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph, the bishop of Mannar Island – about 230 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo - gave an account of the “shedding of innocent blood” to Archbishop Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Sri Lanka, in a written letter to be delivered yesterday. The attacked church was in Joseph’s diocese.

In the letter, Joseph details the attack on Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Pesalai village on June 17, where more than 3,000 people were said to have taken refuge as the Sri Lankan navy fired and threw grenades at the sanctuary, reported Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN), the world’s largest Asia church news agency.

Pesalai, with a population of 8,000 residents, is reportedly around 90 percent Catholic.

Among the casualties was a 75-year-old Catholic woman who died instantly when one of the grenade fell on her head, reported Joseph. The bishop also said that more than 47 people inside the church were wounded.

Prior to the attack, navy personnel reportedly killed five civilians in Pesalai village – two Catholics, two Hindus, and a Muslim, according to a report by Tamilnet on June 20.

According to Bishop Joseph, the Sri Lankan Navy had been fighting at sea with the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last Friday, one day before the church attack, leading to villagers taking refuge in the church. Joseph had complained that the navy and army unrealistically expect civilians to give them information about the LTTE.

Since 1983, the LITE has fought for Tamil autonomy in the north and east which officially ended in a cease-fire agreement in February 2002. During the nearly 20 years of fighting, up to 80,000 people died and a million had been displaced.

Peace talks between the government and LTTE have been held but later interrupted or stalled with LTTE withdrawals from talks. The European Union recently listed LITE as a terrorist organization.