Bishop of Mannar Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph has said the August feast of the sacred Madhu Shrine will not take place this year. The absence of complete normalcy in the area, inability to meet the spiritual and material needs of pilgrims for want of time and the failure on the part of both the government and the LTTE to agree to the proposed no conflict zone at Madhu have been cited as the reasons for his decision against holding the annual feast.
A decision on whether to hold the Madhu feast or not is best left to the good bishop who is au fait with the ground situation. If he thinks the situation is not yet conducive to a mass gathering, so be it! We only hope it won t be a long wait for the Catholic devotees eager to worship at the sylvan shrine.
Why the sacred Madhu shrine and its precincts have not yet been declared a no conflict zone is mind-boggling. The army has pulled out from the holy area, having banished the LTTE and repaired the shrine the LTTE has retreated deeper into the Wanni. Therefore, Madhu has automatically become a no conflict zone in all but name. What remains to be done is to make a formal declaration to that effect and obtain an undertaking from the warring parties that their long range weapons will not be trained on that area. The army has no reason to do so as it is in control of the entire Mannar District and if the LTTE desists from shelling the area or engaging in ambushes there, the shrine and the pilgrims will be safe. After all, the LTTE offered a unilateral ceasefire the other day in view of a mundane affair like the recently concluded SAARC Summit. So, why cannot the outfit scale down its truce and convert it into a permanent cessation of hostilities confined to the Madhu area with the military reciprocating?
It is not only the Madhu shrine that needs to be a no conflict zone but also the roads that lead there. The pilgrims must be able to move freely back and forth without fear of getting caught in the crossfire.
Similarly, all places of religious worship, wherever they may be located, must be free from conflict. Should a religious place come under attack from any quarter, it is incumbent upon all religious leaders to shed differences and join forces to have the perpetrators brought to book. There should be no double standards in protecting holy shrines and devotees. It is the duty of religious leaders to maintain their independence and stand up to any armed party be it the LTTE or the military that attempts trespass. There must not be any alliances between the holy and the unholy.
Holy shrines belonging to all faiths have suffered damage at the hands of the warring parties even outside the war zone. Devotees have been massacred and priests put to death in a most violent manner. Some priests have simply disappeared.
All religious leaders ought to be united in campaigning for the creation of peace zones around holy shrines irrespective of their geographical location. Let the creation of the Madhu no conflict zone be a beginning.