“Last night’s toll of the dead is 3318 and of the injured more than 4000,” the letter sent on 10 May, 2009 and seen by the BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya stated. “It was a barrage of artillery, mortar, multi-barrel shelling and cluster bombs, weapons which Sri Lankan government denies using on the civilians in the no fire zone,” says Fr Joseph’s letter to the Pope. A Catholic priest who stayed in a government declared ‘safe zone’ during the last stages of war has strongly criticised the Church in Sri Lanka for being silent about the plight of trapped civilians.
In an open letter to the Pope, Fr GA Francis Joseph has blasted Church authorities for not raising its voice at a time some western countries and the UN ‘voiced their dismay’ at Sri Lanka government’s military strategy.
“Last night’s toll of the dead is 3318 and of the injured more than 4000,” the letter sent on 10 May, 2009 and seen by the BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya stated.
“It was a barrage of artillery, mortar, multi-barrel shelling and cluster bombs, weapons which Sri Lankan government denies using on the civilians in the no fire zone,” says Fr Joseph’s letter to the Pope.
He was living among 365,000 Tamil civilians at the time of writing, the former Rector of St Patrick’s College Jaffna stated in his strongly worded letter.
Diplomacy and decietfulness
“It is unfortunate that the Church in Sri Lanka does not have the wisdom and guts to air her views forcefully and unequivocally regarding the ongoing war,” said Fr Joseph adding that the sending of the letter may result with his killing by the government or excommunication by the Church.
In a recent Wikileaks revelation, US Ambassador in Colombo Patricia Butenis has told authorities in Washington that Archbishop Malcolm Ranjit requested the US not push accountability issues against Rajapaksa administration.
The Archbishop has argued that such action would push the government towards a more hardline approach, an opinion agreed by the US ambassador.
The Archbishop office in Colombo, however, has strongly rejected a leaked Wikileaks cable as ‘baseless’ and ‘false’.
A spokesperson from the Archbishop’s ofice, Rev. Father Benedict Joseph has told The Sunday Leader that this was not the first instance where the Archbishop’s name had been misused and denied the contents of the leaked cable entirely.
However, Fr Joseph’s desperate letter to the Pope in 2009 is highly critical of the Church as well as the Sri Lankan government.
“Knowing that diplomacy comes so perilously near deceitfulness, that our trust in those who are proficient in its exercise, dwindles as time passes by,” said the priest whose fate is unknown states.
“The Tamils struggling for freedom look up Your Holiness to come to their rescue.”
Following the Sri Lankan government’s declaration of the military victory over Tamil Tigers a week later, Pope Benedict XVI called upon all combatants to facilitate the evacuation of civillians.
Addressing a public prayer meeting in the Vatican City after the government announced that all civillians in the war zone have reached safety, the pope said that he joins in the call of the United Nations Security Council “which just a few days ago demanded guarantees for their safety and security.”