Sri-Lankan Catholics hailed the government’s decision to classify the sanctuary of Our Lady of Madhu among the country’s sacred sites, thus recognizing the importance of the place not only for Catholics but also as a symbol of unity for the country.
The sanctuary of Our Lady of Madhu in the north of Sri Lanka has become a symbol of peace between the Sinhalese and the Tamils ever since the end of the civil war (1983-2009). During the conflict that lasted nearly twenty-six years, more than three thousand people took refuge in the sanctuary.
Our Lady of Madhu is the country’s most important Catholic sanctuary. It has just celebrated its fourth centenary. It was installed in the district of Mannar in the 16th century after it was transferred from the peninsula of Jaffna to protect it from the iconoclast Dutch colons who were hostile to Catholicism. The new church was only consecrated recently, in the 1940s.
Every year, great pilgrimages are organized, especially on July 2 for the feast of the Visitation and August 15 for the Assumption. They draw several hundred thousand pilgrims. During his visit to Sri Lanka on January 14, 2015, Pope Francis visited the church of Madhu where he called on the Tamils and the Sinhalese to forgive each other.
The Catholics of the island have hailed President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision. Fr. Victor Soosay, vicar general of the diocese of Mannar, expressed his joy: “The government has declared many Buddhist and Hindu places of worship as sacred areas and we welcome the government move on the Madhu church.” The priest added that the ministers of Religious Affairs and Tourism, with the help of the Indian government, plan to build two hundred houses to accommodate pilgrims.
These may be the government’s true motives – tourism and the development of the economy – and syncretism, which is very widespread in the Indian Ocean. The peace between the Sinhalese and the Tamils will become lasting only in the Faith in Jesus Christ.