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Jesuits to give a 'Sri Lankan face' to reconciliation

Children's education must be a priority to help war-torn nation heal

Jesuits to give a 'Sri Lankan face' to reconciliation

Relatives of Tamils who disappeared toward the end of Sri Lanka's protracted civil war stage a protest in the capital Colombo demanding justice in this file photo. ( photo) reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

February 27, 2018

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Helping a fractured and war-ravaged nation piece itself back together through reconciliation has become a top priority for priests serving the Society of Jesus (SJ) in Sri Lanka.

As part of that, making sure children who live in some of the worst hit areas receive a proper education is crucial to reviving and unifying the country after three decades of violent conflict, they say.

Sri Lanka's bloody 30-year civil war drew to a close in 2009 but nine years on the country still faces a raft of challenges as many parties wait for justice to be served amid allegations of known war criminals going unpunished.

As such, the theme of reconciliation emerged as a key topic at the Feb. 17-21 Jesuit Conference of South Asia.

Notables attending the conference included Father Arturo Marcelino Sosa Abascal, the Superior-General of the Society of Jesus.

Addressing a congregation featuring 100 priests at the Jesuit Retreat House at Lewella in Kandy on Feb. 18, Father Sosa said there was no official report confirming how many had lost their lives in the last phase of the civil war. But figures supplied by the United Nations estimate that at least 40,000 civilians were killed in the final days of the war alone.

"The killing of ordinary people has to be condemned. There should be justice," Father Sosa said, reminding Sri Lankan Jesuits to get involved rather than staying silent on vital issues.


Father Arturo Marcelino Sosa Abascal, Superior-General of the Society of Jesus, attends the Jesuit Conference of South Asia in mid-February at the Jesuit Retreat House, Lewella, Kandy. ( photo)

The UN has said Sri Lanka has the second-highest number of missing persons among all countries. Some 12,000 are known to have disappeared after they were detained by the military, it added.

Father Anton Peiris, executive assistant and admonitor to the provincial assistant executive of Jesuits in Sri Lanka, said that Father Sosa spoke about the importance of education. 

"Father Sosa stressed the need to move on and use education to help children rebuild their lives, which have been devastated by war," said Father Peiris. "One of our missions is to foster reconciliation by better educating marginalized children who live in war-ravaged parts of the country." 

Recalling Father Sosa's letter to members of the congregation last October, Father Peiris said the Jesuits in Sri Lanka are trying to indigenize the concept of reconciliation in the island nation.

"We want to make reconciliation more Sri Lankan and give a Sri Lankan face to it," he said.

Father Hans Zollner SJ, a German theologian and psychologist who serves as president of the Center for Child Protection, told that children are often the first to lose what should be their inviolable rights during war.


Father Zollner, who also serves as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, stressed the importance of reconciliation by supporting the younger generation.

He referred to a recently released Save the Children report which stated that over 357 million children are now living in conflict zones, up 75 percent from 200 million in 1995.

"This is really an unimaginably big number," he said.

"We need to do what we can. These experiences traumatize children and wounds their entire psyche," he said.

"We must do whatever we can to help people heal from such trauma … and create a more stable society so they can find the healing they so desperately need," he added.

He described this as a vital part of the mission to broker a lasting peace by minimizing the number of harbored grudges and providing closure.

The Jesuits in Sri Lanka have also suffered, with a number of its members dying or being added to the missing list while trying to defend people's human rights in the north of the country.

Two prominent examples of this are Father Eugene John Herbert SJ, who disappeared in 1990, and Father Xavier Karunaratnam, who served as chairman of the North-East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR) in Kilinochchi.

Meanwhile, Father Sosa stressed the importance of finding justice for the dead and the missing.

Known for its coverage of the Tamil Tigers and their movements, the NESOHR operated in a Tamil-dominated area of north Sri Lanka and was forced to shut its doors in 2008, the year Father Karunaratnam was killed.

"Reconciliation is today the most heartrending cry of humanity," Father Rosa wrote in a letter to members of the community dated Oct. 3, 2017.

"Since biblical times, reconciliation has been a central, intrinsic dimension of the pursuit of justice, that is, of the earnest efforts to restore the fine fabric of manifold relations that constitute the human being according to the original design of the Creator," the letter read.

Sri Lankans visit a monument with 600 photos of Sinhalese and Tamil people who remain on the missing list. Built in 2000 it sits in front of St. Cecilia's Church in Raddoluwa, in Colombo Archdiocese. ( photo)


"The mature fruit of reconciliation is peace, the sublime situation in which human beings not only recognize one anothers' dignity, relate together in harmony and guarantee the basic rights of all, but also work for the integrity of creation as a whole," it continued.

Father Sosa said at the conference that he planned to visit new missions in north and east Sri Lanka.

He also planed to visit Jesuit Reconciliation Solidarity Sri Lanka, a project for pre-schoolers in Kilinochchi, a city in north Sri Lanka where the last phase of the civil war was fought.

The Jesuit conference features 23 provincial superiors from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and is being hosted by Jesuit Retreat House at Lewella in Kandy. 

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