Rt Rev Dr Thomas Savundaranayagam, the Bishop of Jaffna, has categorically opposed attempts by several Tamil nationalist groups in Tamil Nadu to prevent Sri Lankan pilgrims from visiting Catholic shrines in that State.
Asked to comment on the incident last Sunday when the Tamil Nadu police turned back 70 Lankan pilgrims even before they reached the Annai Velankanni shrine fearing violence by Tamil nationalist groups, Dr Savundaranayagam said that pilgrims “should not be stopped at all”.
“Lankan Catholics, whether Tamil or Sinhalese, are very much devoted to Annai Velankanni. They make vows to the deity. They should not be prevented from fulfilling their vows,” he told Express on Wednesday.
Violation of Rights
Fr Cyril Gamini, spokesman of the acting Bishop of Colombo, Fr Emmanuel Fernando, said that stopping pilgrims from going to a place of worship was an “undemocratic act and a violation of a human right”.
“One of the yardsticks for judging the state of democracy and human rights in a country is the existence or non-existence of the freedom of worship for all communities,” he explained.
“While we do not believe that the government of Tamil Nadu is behind these acts of violence, it is responsible for giving protection to pilgrims. After all, pilgrims do not go to Tamil Nadu for any purpose other than offering worship at its shrines,” Fr Gamini said.
Asked if such incidents would prevent Lankans from visiting shrines in Tamil Nadu, he said that they would not. “The incidents have been sporadic. Our people have been going despite past incidents of violence and will continue to go,” he affirmed.