All parishes in the Archdiocese of Colombo staged demonstrations to denounce drug peddlers on key roads after Sunday Mass on March 31. (Photo by Niranjani Roland/ucanews.com).
Catholics including priests and nuns have joined religious and political leaders in Sri Lanka at a protest march and rally against drug abuse.
The island nation has become a major transit point for traffickers as well as suffering from widespread domestic drug addiction.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, addressing more than 2,000 demonstrators on March 31 at Vystwyke Park in capital Colombo, pledged to proceed with executions of serious drug offenders. "We are strengthening the laws and will go for strict punishments," he said.
He said there would be a special April 3 event for schoolchildren and others to pledge support for the battle against illicit drugs.
Sri Lankan authorities destroyed nearly 720 kilograms of cocaine on April 1 and US$108 million worth of drugs from a single intercepted shipment was burned in January 2018.
While the death penalty has not been implemented since 1976, there are about 1,300 prisoners on death row in Sri Lanka, including 48 for drug convictions.
A phone hotline has been established for members of the public to report drug dealers.
Colombo parishes organized silent protests, where placards such as "Protect our children from drugs" were displayed after March 31 morning Masses before the big rally in the afternoon.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, said that as a Catholic leader he needed to make people aware of how the drug menace was spreading across the country.
"I request the president to punish the culprits who are behind this drug mafia without fear," he said. "Drug dealers target schoolchildren and the youth, so we should protect our future generations."
Archbishop Ranjith issued a pastoral letter urging all parishes and institutions to stage silent demonstrations denouncing drug peddlers.
Although taking a strong anti-drugs stance, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka said in an August statement that the death penalty would not solve the nation's drug problem.
That came soon after the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that a revision of church teachings approved by Pope Francis clearly stated total opposition to the death penalty.
However, Buddhist monk Ven. Kamburugamuwe Vajira Thero said that despite the anti-death penalty campaigning of human rights activists, he supported full implementation of the law in this regard.
Berni de Silva, one of the protesters from St. Anne’s Church in Colombo, told ucanews.com that religious leaders should help eradicate the drug evil and that culprits should be punished regardless of their status.
"We make families aware of the drug menace," said de Silva, who is a member of the Legion of Mary.