Sri Lankan Catholics celebrate heroic priest despite govt ban

Catholics in Sri Lanka have defied government attempts to prevent a commemorative Mass for an heroic priest, it has emerged.

According to reports from the country at the end of May, while Sri Lanka officially geared up to mark the fifth anniversary, on May 18, of the end of the civil conflict against the Tamil Tigers, the group’s former stronghold in the north was placed under a ban against any memorial to Tamil victims of the conflict. However, priests, friends and supporters of the late Fr Mariampillai Sarathjeevan, a 41-year-old Catholic priest who died on May 18, 2009, reportedly defied both the ban and a military blockade to celebrate a Mass in his honour.

Fr Sarathjeevan had ministered to civilians trapped by the civil conflict and, as the military net tightened around the Tamils in May 2009, he refused the opportunity to escape. Working through a lack of food and water, the priest continued his pastoral work until May 18, when he tried to lead a group of civilians from the conflict zone. During that attempt, Fr Sarathjeevan died, reportedly of a heart attack.

Fr Sarathjeevan was one of eight priests who remained when the Sri Lankan authorities ordered NGOs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to leave the conflict zone ahead of the final military push against the Tamil Tigers. Thousands were reportedly slaughtered thereafter and Sri Lanka has repeatedly defied attempts to establish official inquiries into events.