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Church works to heal despair in Sri Lanka

RESTRUCTURING the economy and rebuilding the infrastructure of Sri Lanka will take four to five years, but inner healing is going to take a life time, says the Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera.

Speaking from Colombo, where he returned this week after travelling extensively in the country, the Bishop said there was despair across all the coastal regions that had been affected. “It’s a kind of blanket loss, and that’s the hardest part of this whole experience. People are struggling to return to normalcy, full of questions, left with nothing but the clothes they had on their bodies, having lost members of their family and everything personal and intimate.”

The diocese of Colombo has set up a task force, personally overseen by Bishop Duleep. Latest figures for Sri Lanka report 30,882 dead, 6088 still missing, 482,541 displaced and several thousands living with friends and relatives. The flow of relief through the National Christian Council continues. Church leaders have had a fruitful meeting with President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and, in a bid to build solidarity, interfaith clean-up teams of young people are working with communities.

The effect on people who had been unable to bury their dead was enormous, the Bishop said. “We saw several mass graves. Loved ones in one particular area had not been able to be present when bodies were buried because people had been separated from one another. There is a lot of suppressed grief, and the different religions will have to cope with this.”

Acts of remembrance and solidarity are to be organised in the diocese, and these two themes are to be carried through Christian Unity week and into Lent and Easter. “We are asking what we can do as a nation that needs to rise up and see the connection with the death and resurrection of Christ,” said the Bishop.

It was becoming clear that people had suppressed their grief, and that trauma counselling was now a priority, the Bishop reported. “We are a country which has been struggling through repeated conflicts, and we have some basic facilities and groups, and qualified and trained people, but the work has got to extend,” he said. The diocese is co-ordinating workshops to send out befrienders.

Relief must not be politicised, urged the Bishop, who, two days earlier, had visited some of the northern and eastern coastal areas held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. “We don’t want people to block or obstruct the process for political gain. That’s something that could happen,” the Bishop stressed.

The Bishop has been in contact with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the British High Commissioner and the Ambassadors of Canada, France and Germany, urging them to encourage their governments to cancel Sri Lanka’s international debt. “We just can’t carry that load now. That’s one thing the world community can and must do for us,” he said.

“We are a country experiencing a crisis within a crisis. The long-term ethnic crisis and what has happened now must have a bearing on that, and we request the rest of the world to keep the need for sustainable peace and justice in Sri Lanka on the agenda.”
 
The Bishop expressed heartfelt thanks for the support and prayers he had received. “You don’t know what it does when friends from all over the world keep phoning and emailing,” he said. “Please say thank you to the worldwide Anglican Communion; please say thank you to the world on our behalf.”

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