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Sri Lankan Catholics counter fisher union’s ‘false propaganda'

Archdiocese of Colombo and United Fishermen's Society are locked in a legal battle to wrest management of Pitipana fish market
Sri Lankan Catholics, fisher union, false propaganda, fish market, legal battle

Fish vendors arrange their stocks at a fish market in Colombo on March 24, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 04, 2024 12:01 PM GMT
Updated: March 04, 2024 12:17 PM GMT

Catholic priests and nuns joined Catholics in Sri Lanka to protest against what they called attempts to tarnish the image of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo and the Church over the control of a local fish market.

The protesters gathered after the Sunday Mass at their parish churches in the Colombo archdiocese to oppose "the false statements and insults” of the officials of the United Fishermen's Society of Pitipana.

The Archdiocese is locked in a legal battle with the fishermen's society over control of the fish market in Negombo, a Catholic-dominated town some 50 kilometers north of the capital Colombo.

The archdiocese approached the court and secured an order to appoint a trustee to manage and administer the fish market.

The fishermen’s body in response held a media briefing and demonstrated in front of Bishop’s House in Colombo on Feb. 19.

The fishermen's society claims the Church was trying to take control of the fish market which is crucial for tens of thousands of local fishermen to sell their catch. 

Catholic leaders say the society's representatives spread false propaganda, which harms the reputation of the cardinal and the Church.  

The fishermen’s society also sent a letter to the Vatican nuncio outlining their grievances, they said.

Father Manjula Niroshn said the dispute has been on for about fifteen years.

“The cardinal intervened on behalf of all fishermen and the decision given by the court is not a personal gain for him,” he said.

Father Nisantha Rodrigo, who participated in the demonstrations outside the St. Mary's Church at Main Street, Negombo, said all the allegations against the Church and the clergy are baseless.

“This is not an attack on the cardinal alone, but the accusations are against the entire Catholic Church,” he said.

Rodrigo said the claims by the fishermen’s society that Cardinal Ranjith was trying to wrest control of the fish market are “ridiculous.”

The legal steps taken by the Catholic Church will benefit a majority of the 200,000 fishermen and customers visiting the fish market every day.

Aruna Roshantha, president of the United Fishermen's Society for the past 20 years, however, claimed that the church’s lawsuit against the fishermen's union was not intended to gain concessions for poor fishermen.

The protests outside parish churches have been organized by the priests “as part of their project to take control of the fish market,” Roshantha claimed.

Nuwani Fernando, a Catholic student activist, said the poor fishermen’s families lacked education, health, and other welfare programs like pensions for the elderly.

“It is essential to maintain transparency in the administration of the fish markets, whether run by the fishers’ society or the Church,” she said.

Fernando advised both parties to the dispute to stay clear of the political agenda and avoid unnecessary confrontation.

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