Saffron-robed novice Buddhist monks hoe the ground to raise crops during Sri Lanka's lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Piliyandala on the outskirts of Colombo on April 5. (Photo: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)
Buddhist monks are gathering to offer special prayers in Sri Lanka's temples throughout the day in a bid to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
Sampath Darmaraja, a community leader in Kurunegala, said the monks chant the sacred Rathana Suthraya (Ratana Sutta) Buddhist discourse to stem the disease.
“The whole world now is terrified of the coronavirus epidemic. Although technology today is so advanced, no drug has been found to cure the disease,” said Darmaraja, who is a Buddhist married to a Christian.
During the Lord Buddha's time when the town of Visala was plagued by disease, the Rathana Suthraya was chanted to dispel the contagion and bring back normalcy.
Rathana Suthraya and its parts have been used at various times to combat fear of the deadly disease. Monks at many temples chant its verses for one week to seek blessings for the country amid the threat of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Darmaraja said chief Buddhist prelates have requested all temples in the country to chant the Rathana Suthraya both in the morning and in the evening. “Society recognizes that this has reduced the incidence of serious diseases,” he said.
Health authorities have confirmed that the number of Covid-19 cases had risen to 176 and five people had died as of April 6. The first, a 60-year-old patient, died on March 28.
Some districts have been identified as high-risk areas, so a curfew has been enforced. The country's airports have been closed until further notice.
More than 2,900 prisoners have been released on bail as a measure to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in Sri Lanka's overcrowded jails. This includes prisoners charged with minor offenses, unable to pay fines and those who had completed the better part of their jail terms.
The Church canceled Masses and other services from March 15 due to the rapid raise of Covid-19 cases. The decision came in the middle of the Lenten season that features gatherings such as the Way of the Cross, Lenten pilgrimages, group prayer services, Holy Hour and Passion plays in different parishes.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka called on all the faithful to observe a day of fasting and prayer on March 22 to protect and heal the country.
They also called on Mother Mary to intercede with God to prevent, protect and heal all affected in Sri Lanka and all other countries and to rid the world of the devastating virus.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith made a live telecast vow on April 3 to Mother Mary to save Sri Lanka and the entire world from the coronavirus.
He said the disaster was the result of selfishness and urged Catholics to recite the rosary and observe holy hour as a family every day at 7pm.
“At this critical moment in which the entire human society is paralyzed, Mother Mary, please listen to our heartfelt prayers,” Cardinal Ranjith said at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in Tewatta, Ragama.
“Our Lady of Lanka, intervene to prevent the spread of this devastating epidemic which is unbearable to our country.
“Save our beloved country and the entire world from this tragic disease as Our Lady of Lanka who saved us from deaths during World War II.”
At the beginning of World War II, Archbishop Jean-Marie Masson, the last Frenchman to be metropolitan of the country, made a vow to build a national basilica shrine in honor of Our Lady in Tewatta if the country was spared the ravages of the global conflict.
Cardinal Thomas Benjamin Cooray kept that sacred promise and built the beautiful Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in the Western Province.
Darmaraja said Buddhist and Christian spiritual chanting and prayers make the faithful free. “For many, religion comes to mind when disaster strikes and you can still reap the consequences today,” he said.