Catholic parishes including priests and nuns attend a protest on July 11 against the construction of a power plant on the Muthurajawela wetlands. (Photo: Facebook page of St. Nicholas Church, Bopitiya)
Sri Lankan Catholics have held a protest against the construction of a power plant in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
They urged the Sri Lankan government to halt a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on the Muthurajawela wetlands.
The government wants to fill in part of the wetlands to house a plant that will provide electricity for the Colombo Port City, Multipurpose Transport Center and Maritime City Project, among others.
A caravan carrying a statue of Jesus traveled through villages as people protested peacefully with placards on both sides of roads on July 11 in a demonstration that started at St. Nicholas Church in Bopitiya on July 11. Catholic parishes including priests and nuns joined the protest.
Father Jayantha Nimal, parish priest of St. Nicholas Church, blessed the caravan with a prayer and urged the government to stop destroying natural resources in the name of development.
"The fact that another 100 acres will be filled with sea sand for the power plant means that we will be subjected to more floods in the future," said Father Nimal.
Our Christian faith is that God protects us and we must save the treasure of the natural ecosystem for future generations
"All the governments have sold natural resources in the country but helpless people suffer from it. Stop the catastrophe now."
Heavy rains have brought flooding to the area since last month and hundreds of families have been evacuated to shelters including church premises.
Father Nimal said they hope that the government will listen to the voices of those innocent people and the Church has already urged the Environmental Authority to stop the project.
"Our Christian faith is that God protects us and we must save the treasure of the natural ecosystem for future generations," the priest said.
Environmentalists, opposition politicians and villagers have urged the government to stop attempts to fill up and build different projects on the country's largest coastal wetland sanctuary, which supports various species of flora and fauna and species of birds.
The environmentalists have also blamed the government for filling marshland to construct new highways.
Sebastian Fernando, a teacher from Pamunugama, said the Church opposed the huge construction on the Muthurajawela wetlands because of its impact on innocent people and the environment.
"Due to these massive development projects, the method of absorbing water into the ground systems has been destroyed," said Fernando. "We constantly pray to God to save us from the calamity."
Today we have to save the great resource of Muthurajawela from the political authority which should be protected by them
Priests, nuns and laypeople rallied to protect the Muthurajawela sanctuary in 2017 and 2021. They organized protest campaigns and discussions with officials against dumping garbage and starting new construction works.
Father Jude Chrishantha Fernando, director of archdiocesan social communications, said Muthurajawela is the best flood control area in the Western Province.
"Today we have to save the great resource of Muthurajawela from the political authority which should be protected by them," said Father Fernando.
"We observe that the political authorities try to sell the wetlands for money but the Church raises its voice on behalf of the people, otherwise we will not have an environment to live in the future."