2ND LEAD (Adds correction)

Priests deny SLA's "Shramadana" story

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 13 February 2008, 08:22 GMT]
Rev. Fr. S.K. Devarajah, the parish priest of St. Sebastian Cathedral in Mannaar in a statement issued Thursday, said that "the Sri Lankan Army occupied this church premises on their own," and added that his visit to the St. Anthony’s Shrine on the 11th of February 2008 was to ask the SLA permission to hold Lenten Pilgrimage in the shrine, and not to request the SLA command to conduct Shramadana (voluntary work). Colombo media and SLA had earlier reported that the SLA troopers were in the church compound cleaning the premises on the Priest's request when LTTE shells fell on the premises.

The statement also said "the place was very clean and fit for the divine services," when the priest visited the Shrine premises on the 11th February."

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakara, SLA spokesman, told BBC Tamil service Tuesday that the SLA had sent 25 soldiers to help cleaning the church compound at the request of people and priests of the church and 6 of these soldiers were killed and 10 injured when LTTE shells hit the church.

Full text of the statement issued by the priest follows:

"Having heard about the unfortunate and distressing incident of shelling that fell in the compound of St. Anthony’s Shrine, Thallaadi, resulting the death of some soldiers and causing injury to some others besides damaging the portico of the church on 12th February 2008, I wish to offer my sympathies and prayers to the families of the victims.

"Following this attack I have been receiving calls from Colombo, informing me about the news in the media which connected the incident and our visit to the shrine on the previous day. In this connection I would like to give some clarifications to the general public.

"The Sri Lankan Army occupied this church premises on their own. Immediately after the withdrawal of the CFA, as is publicly seen, I obtained prior permission from the OIC of the Army Camp of the Church premises to visit the shrine of the 11th of February 2008 for the purpose of obtaining permission to organize Lenten pilgrimages to the shrine. On the same day we, the priest of the Mannar town had to go to Vankaalai for our monthly capital Deanery meeting in our Diocesan van. On our way to Vankaalai at 10.30am, we stopped at Thallaadi near the statue of St. Anthony’s on the main road and met two officers who accompanied me, the Parish Priest, my two assistant priests and two other priests to the shrine.

"We stood in the portico of the church and spoke with the officers for about 5 minutes explaining to them, that we want to have our Lenten pilgrimage to this shrine during this holy season, Lent to pray for peace in our land. The officers very kindly instructed me to submit the names of the participant. In our conversation with them, we never requested 'sharmadana' or any other help from them. The talk about the sharmadana never came up there. In fact we noticed that the place was very clean and fit for the divine services. However, it appears that our visit has been maliciously reported in some of the media as exposing the service personnel to danger by making them undertake sharmadana work."

 

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