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Jaffna Catholics Tell Government: Tell Us “Truth” About Missing Priest

ICC Note:

Instead of working to show that Sri Lanka is a country where justice is upheld, authorities are not responding to desperate requests to find a missing Catholic priest and his companion, a father of five, amidst news that yet another Christian leader has gone missing.

by Danielle Vella

AsiaNews (08/25/06) – Catholics in northern Sri Lanka are calling for the truth about a priest’s disappearance in Jaffna to be revealed “without delay”. As the authorities keep silent, the community can only continue to pray.

Thirty-four-year-old Fr Jim Brown was last seen by a fellow priest on 20 August at a military checkpoint at Allaipiddy. Accompanied by Vimalathas, a father of five children, he was waiting to go to his parish church, destroyed days before in clashes between the army and rebel Tamil Tigers. Both men have disappeared without trace.

While the diocese of Jaffna anxiously awaits news of their fate, another Christian priest has been reported missing in Jaffna since 11 August: Fr Vincent Vinodharaja of the Christian Church of the Apostle.

On 24 August, priests, religious and lay people flocked to an adoration service held at St John’s church in Jaffna for Fr Jim and Vimalathas. The service was followed by a silent march to the office of the local Government Agent [highest government representative at district level].

Fr M. Savundaranayagam, Dean of Jaffna Ecclesiastical District, addressed the church gathering, stressing that “our government has the responsibility to give a truthful and reasonable answer to this serious problem.”

“We cannot understand how a priest in his full priestly uniform along with his pillion rider, riding a red coloured motor-cycle could have mysteriously vanished during daylight hours in an area where there is a concentration of security forces,” he said. “We request that the truth about this matter be revealed to us without delay.”

Fr Savundaranayagam tempered his direct appeal by thanking the security forces for the “respect” they usually showed priests, even allowing them to travel for essential services during curfew hours sometimes.

But this time, the forces are unable, or unwilling, to help. All requests to the authorities and efforts by the church to discover the whereabouts of Fr Jim and Vimalathas have proved fruitless. Fr Savundaranayagam said he went in person to Allaipiddy to search for Fr Jim and Vimalathas on 22 August, and the following day, he accompanied the bishop of Jaffna , Thomas Savundaranayagam, to St Philip Neri Church there. “Unfortunately we were unable to get any new information about them,” he said.

While waiting and hoping Fr Jim is safe, his friends are recalling his selfless service. “Fr Jim did his best to help the Allaipiddy people, risking his own life to face a barrage of shells,” said Fr Savundaranayagam, referring to an attack on St Philip Neri church during crossfire on 12 August.

The people of the neighbouring diocese of Mannar, where the priest worked for two years, also held prayers and a march for Fr Jim today.