Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka elections: peace and reconciliation

Pope in Sri LankaAs Pope Francis calls for reconciliation in Sri Lanka, Joe William from CAFOD partner Centre for Communications Training reflects on last week’s Presidential election.

Please pray for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka

After the end of the war in 2009, a rainbow coalition of political parties now provides the best option for sustainable peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

The contest for the island’s eighth Presidential Election began in November when incumbent Rajapaksa called snap polls, two years ahead of schedule. With no serious contender at that time, he was eyeing an unprecedented third term in office, least expecting his own Cabinet Minister Maithripala Sirisena to defect and emerge as a common candidate who would win the support of an eclectic joint opposition platform.

Mr. Sirisena’s departure not only prompted some of his colleagues to move with him, but also caused quite a flutter in the ruling camp. The subsequent turn of events — importantly, Tamil and Muslim parties pledging support to Mr. Sirisena — led to what was one of the most closely fought presidential elections in Sri Lanka’s history. Continue reading

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Boxing Day tsunami: the lessons we have learned

Matthew Carter, CAFOD’s Humanitarian Director, reflects on the devastating events of 26 December 2004 and what we have learned in the decade since.

Please pray for all those whose lives were torn apart>>

27747On Boxing Day ten years ago, I was, like many people, taking a Christmas break. My family and I were staying in our normal Christmas hideaway – a very remote croft on the Isle of Skye. I remember texts coming in on my phone early in the morning from a friend and colleague in India saying there had been a massive tsunami. But it wasn’t until a few hours later that the scale of the disaster started to unfold.

I vividly remember coordinating the CAFOD response from a tiny attic bedroom in the cottage, set amongst a wild landscape and deep in snow. My three-year-old daughter sat downstairs next to a roaring fire, playing with her Christmas toys, while my son of just three weeks lay sleeping next to me. There was a sense of bizarre calmness, while on the other side of the world there was total destruction and appalling human loss. In the province of Aceh in Indonesia, over 170,000 people lost their lives.   Continue reading

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Easter reflection: How do we build peace in our world?

by Catherine Gorman, Theology Programme Communications Coordinator

Easter – a time to build peace

Easter has arrived. It is the high point of the Church’s year and we are filled with joy at the resurrection of Christ. Each year I think back to what it must have been like for the disciples on that very first Easter. Hearing that the tomb was empty, running there and finding that it was. Their minds must have been racing, desperately wondering what had happened to Jesus’ body. What did all this mean? But then, as we hear in the gospel, John entered the tomb, “he saw and he believed”. He opened his heart to the mystery and wonder of God and was given a new understanding.

That is our challenge, too, each Easter – to open ourselves up to the resurrection, to believe in the amazing transformative power of God’s love, and to understand the world through this lens. For God’s love is greater even than death and has the power to bring hope out of the greatest despair.

As Pope Francis said last Easter, in his Urbi et Orbi message: “Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”

Dig Deep with CAFOD this Easter and support our brothers and sisters around the world>>

This call to be agents of mercy is something that extends to all our lives. How do we build up peace in our own homes, community, society and world? This question took on a new significance for me on a recent visit to Sri Lanka, a country that was racked by conflict for almost 30 years.

Community in Sri Lanka, Wahamalollewa village

One of the communities I visited in Sri Lanka


Civil war in Sri Lanka

The civil war devastated the country and tore families apart. Figures are contested but 40-75,000 civilians were killed in the last stages of the war and 320,000 survivors were interned in refugee camps.

One man, Kanapathipillai, spoke to me of his experiences of being displaced during the conflict:

“Peace talks would happen, then the war would start up again. Two or three times this happened. Several times we had to leave the village and go to camps because of the conflict. In 2006 to 2007 the shelling was really heavy. I escaped with my family and started to walk to the refugee camp. We stayed there until the government asked us to resettle in our village. When we returned, we had lost everything. Everything was damaged by the shelling.”

The civil war came to an end in 2009, but five years on, the government still refuses to address the underlying problems that caused the conflict, and, in the words of its own report, “violence, suspicion and a sense of discrimination are still prevalent in social and political life.”

In fact one person I met went so far as to say: “We don’t have peace here. We have an absence of conflict.”

Building peace between Sinhalese and Tamil communities

Sujatha, from a Sinhalese community in Sri Lanka


But CAFOD’s local partner, Caritas Sri Lanka, is helping people on both sides to take the steps required for real peace. They set up an exchange programme for Sinhalese and Tamil communities to meet and spend time together. The people were afraid to begin with, but the exchange helped them to understand each other better. Sujatha, one of the women who took part, explained to me:

“We were frightened. It was scary that Tamils were coming to our village. We didn’t know if they would attack us. But when we met, we realised that they were just people. We were living with a lot of prejudices, but this gave us a new understanding. We are poor, they are poor. We do farming, they do farming.”

Thavaraja, a 22-year-old Tamil from Pavatkodichchenai village in the east of Sri Lanka, told me how he found the experience:

Thavaraja, from a Tamil community in Sri Lanka


“The 30 years of war created a big distance. Before we went into the village we were really afraid, because they are Sinhalese and we are Tamils. While we were travelling, we had fear in our minds. But when we got down from the bus, the fear reduced in half. While we were staying with them, the fear disappeared. Their way of welcoming us helped us to get rid of the fear. After three days it was difficult to say goodbye. We were very sorry to leave. A relationship was built – we still have a good relationship.”

It was truly moving listening to both Tamils and Sinhalese talking about how they had overcome their fear of each other and formed new bonds.

Easter is a time to celebrate new life, new beginnings, and to recognise that we too can start afresh. It is an invitation to unlock the potential that has lain buried within us and to help others to do the same. It is a time to dig deep and trust in God, knowing that nothing is impossible to the one who gives us life and has triumphed over death.

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Catherine’s blog was published in The Catholic Times.

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A disgrace for our societies

Today is Anti-Slavery Day. Oliver Behn, our Head of Region for Asia and the Middle East, explains how CAFOD’s partners are tackling modern-day slavery.

Prayers for justice>>

“A disgrace for our societies, which describe themselves as civilised.”

The words of Pope Francis rang in my ears when I recently listened to Apinya Tajit talking about the plight of trafficked fishermen. Apinya works with CAFOD’s partner Caritas Thailand and is the Vice Chairperson of the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network in South-East Asia.

"Some fishermen do not come home for three or four years. Their families do not know where they are or are told they are dead."

“Some fishermen do not come home for three or four years. Their families do not know where they are or are told they are dead.”

“Fishermen in South-East Asia are tricked to work on vessels,” she told me. “They believe they will come home after several days of work at sea, but this is not true for many of them.

“Ships do not land for more than a month and then crews get locked up so they cannot escape. Some fishermen do not come home for three or four years. Their families do not know where they are or are told they are dead.

“In reality, the fishermen are sold from ship to ship. They work under terrible conditions and when they get sick they might just get thrown overboard.” Continue reading

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Side by Side Question Time: Do big demonstrations make a difference?

In the spring issue of Side by Side we’re asking:

“Thousands of people will join IF campaign rallies this summer. Do big demonstrations make a difference?”

Have you ever taken part in a demonstration? Do you think mass rallies are important or are they a waste of time? Does anyone really pay attention to them? Or does the sight of thousands of people coming together make a statement nothing else could match?

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