Sri Lanka's Bishops Call for Prayer, Fasting for Religious Freedom

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL) has called for national day of prayer, fasting and abstinence in opposition to an anti-conversion law coming up for vote in the country's parliament.

The CBCSL has requested that on April 3 all priests, laity and believers present a united front against the bill, which was initially proposed by Buddhist monks.

In their appeal the CBCSL said it hoped for "divine intervention …[to bring] harmony through reconciliation," according to AsiaNews.

The pending legislation, entitled "Prohibition of Forcible Conversions," calls for fines of up to 500,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($4,425 USD) and up to seven years in prison for trying to convert a Sri Lankan citizen from one religion to another by using "force, fraud or allurement."

A bipartisan group of U.S. congressmen sent a strong message to Sri Lanka criticizing the bill and warning that it "will harm, not protect, the freedom of religion of the Sri Lankan people."

CBCSL, meanwhile, said they want to spare "the beloved country of another conflict among adherents of different faiths and religions," which could result from the passing of the anti-conversion bill.

On the day of fasting, funds will be collected to provide aid and support to people who have been affected by the long-running conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

"Each diocese will be responsible for collecting the same to be forwarded to the bishops of the conflict zone," said the president of the CBCSL, Bishop Fernando Vianney, and the secretary general, Norbert M Andradi, in a statement.

Nevil Aberathne, an attorney, has also spoken out against the proposed anti-conversion law.

Speaking in an interview with the Catholic newspaper Ganartha Pradeepaya, Aberathne questioned the need for such a bill saying, "There have been no cases of forced conversion over the past 25 years." He also warned that 50 percent of the work on the bill had already been done.