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Will Madhu feast be celebrated this year?

The Bishop of Mannar Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph yesterday told The Island that he would meet Vanni Security Forces Commander Major General Jagath Jayasuriya on Tuesday (June 7) to discuss the possibility of celebrating this year’s feast of Our Lady of Madhu in August.

He said though the government had said that the annual flag hoisting ceremony would take place on August 6 ahead of the feast scheduled for August 15, they weren’t in a position to make arrangements unless the government lifted restrictions imposed on the Church.

Responding to our queries, he said that a government delegation recently visited the shrine to review the situation. "I have explained the difficulty in having the feast without improving the ground situation." According to him, there was only one priest, three nuns and six civilians at the shrine.

The 57 Division which launched offensive operations in March, 2007 captured Madhu on April 24, last year, thereby setting the stage for an all out campaign on the Vanni front. The LTTE resisted the army advance on Madhu for over a year before retreating northwards.

The Bishop said that Catholics should be allowed to come in their vehicles. He said though devotees from the South could participate at the feast, over 300,000 Tamils now held in welfare centres would be denied the opportunity. He emphasised the importance of allowing people from all parts of the country to join the celebrations.

Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, UNP Gampaha District MP, yesterday told The Island that as large crowds were expected at Madhu adequate arrangements had to be made.

The Defence Ministry in a statement posted on its website yesterday (July 2) quoted the Religious Affairs Ministry as saying that all arrangements had been made for the convenience of the pilgrims. The ministry also quoted Rev. Father Desmond Kulas, who is in charge of the administration of the shrine as saying that arrangements had been made to hold this year’s feast on a grand scale.

Major General Jayasuriya told a top level security conference in Vavuniya on June 29 that as the Madhu church area had been cleared of mines and other booby traps the feast could go ahead without any hindrance.

The Bishop said that though the Church had discussed the entire gamut of issues with a government delegation comprising ministers Sarath Kumara Gunaratne and Dayasritha Tissera on June 18, there had been no consensus on the arrangements. He said that the church wanted the government to allow vehicles coming to Madhu to proceed without being stopped at Madawachchiya. According to him, the government last year provided transport from Medawachchiya to Madhu and back and that arrangement had caused severe hardships.

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