Tamil-wing of Catholics aid and abet Tamil extremism – Part I

source: Lankaweb,  March 24, 2014


H. L. D. Mahindapala

Of the many contradictions, misinterpretations, distortions and perversions in the political culture of the north the role of religion, in all its dimensions, is the least explored and understood. In contrast, Buddhism has been explored almost exhaustively in the south, mainly to demonize it as the force that exacerbated inter-ethnic relations..

One of the remarkable contradictions of Jaffna society, missed by sociologists and other social scientists, is that it is primarily a Hindu society dominated  by the Christian – mainly Catholic – hierarchy. From S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the Christian leader of Tamil separatism, to Bishop Rayappu Joseph, the Bishop of Mannar, the English-educated Christian elite has dominated its political class.

 Of the all the Western institutions it is the Catholic Church that loom large over the northern political landscape. To paraphrase Bishop S. Jebanesan, Catholicism that came with the Portuguese remained deep-rooted unlike the subsequent denominations which had a tenuous hold on Jaffna. (p.42 – The Bible Trembled, R.F. Young and S. Jebanesan). The Catholic Church became a stronghold of the Karaiyar caste (fisher caste) in the coastal belt. They also joined the Tigers in large numbers and were in the forefront of this movement.

 The diocese of Mannar under Bishop Joseph stands out as a typical example where Catholicism and Tamil extremism intertwined to make mono-ethnic Tamil extremism an inextricable and indistinguishable part of the Catholic Church. After Biahop Deogupillai he became leading local symbol of the Tamil crusade to politicize the Catholic Church and turn it into a tool for the extremist  separatist ideology of Velupillai Prabhakaran. For instance, his act of  allowing one of his priests to hijack the Statue of Holy Mary at Madhu and run with it, nearly 20 km north of Mannar into Vellankulam, a territory held by Prabhakaran, was a political act designed to bless the cadres of Prabhakaran fighting  with his back to the wall. It had nothing to do with saving the image of Holy Mary because the advancing forces were under strict orders not damage the Madhu Church. And they didn’t despite the LTTE forces using the Madhu grounds to fire at the Sri Lankan forces inching their way up the north-western shoreline.

 The first concern of Bishop Rayappu should have been to make the sacred image accessible to the Catholics in all communities. He had the opportunity to take the sacred image to the Bishop’s House in Mannar or to a cleared area in the south, away from the war zone, which would  have been the safest move. But  his racist politics overtook his  religious obligations. This is not surprising. The tendency of the Catholic hierarchy has been to go along with fascist dictators. For instance, when Duce (leader) Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935 the Bishop of Cremona consecrated a number of regimental flags and said: ‘The blessing of God be upon these soldiers who, on African soil, will conquer new and fertile lands for the Italian genius, thereby bringing to them Roman and Christian culture. May Italy stand once again as the Christian mentor to the whole world.’ (Wikipedia).

 Bishop Rayappu’s  mission was no different. He was out to serve the fascist  / racist politics of Prabhakaran. As a last minute desperate act he even appealed to Vatican to stop the advance of the Army in the name of saving the sacred image of Holy Mary. Vatican which may have seen through the politics  of Bishop Rayappu, maintained a stony silence, neither saying “yes” or “no” to Bishop Rayappu. It was also an emotive issue with the poteontial to rouse the sympathies of  the global Catholic community. By exaggerating the threat to the Holy image he was hoping  to mobilize  international opinion to save Prabhakaran. But no one stepped in to save him. Nor did they step in to stop Bishop Rayappah from hijacking a holy image common to all Catholics to an exclusive Tamil enclave. It  happened  in Bishop Rayappu  diocese and he was solely responsible for the hijacking.

 The significance of this brazen act is this: the Catholic church had embraced Tamil extremism  in all its violent manifestations as its main political agenda, with a modicum of dissent from the odd priests here and there. But as a collective force, the Tamil-wing of the Catholic Church has been  in the forefront of promoting mono-ethnic Tamil extremism. Its covert and overt activism, using its clerical channels as conduits for propagating and promoting Tamil extremism, has been a significant force in propelling Prabhakaranism as a political force in the north.

 Bishop Rayappu Joseph has been the spearhead of this Catholic action more  than any other in the Catholic hierarchy, leaving aside Fr. S. J. Emmanuel, a Karaiyar,  who operates abroad. The hijacking of  the statue  of Holy Mary is an act that demonstrate his political fanaticism. In the end, it served neither the Church nor God. And least  of his Tamil extremism. It is a statute that belongs to the Sinhala Catholics as well, After all they constitute the major part of the Catholic Church. By his act he was depriving the majority of the Catholics – including the Tamils Catholics who were living with the Sinhalese outside the territory controlled by Prabhakaran –  their right to share the Mother of God which belongs to the Catholic community as a whole.

 In the post-Chelvanayakam decades, dominated by Tamil separatism, the Christian political culture  of the north took a rabid turn drawing close to the point of being only one step away from putting a pottu and holy ash on the statues of Holy Mary and Jesus to identity them as being one with the Tamils. They went as far as they could and stopped at hijacking the Madhu statue. They could not go beyond that though the Tamil theologians threatened to write a separate theology for the Tamils. The former  Vicar General of Jaffna, Fr. S. J. Emmanuel, was  the first to declare that he was writing a Tamil theology for the Tamils excluding  the Sinhala Catholics. So did Bishop S. Jebanesan, a scholar of considerable repute. In the end, neither of them produced a theology for the Tamils. If they did they would have added their bit to the prevailing religio-political culture of the north which they had already distorted and perverted.  As false prophets they used their own brand of Christian theology to promise a land which was beyond their reach. The only land promised to them was not by any divine authority but by delusional Tamil extremists who met in the electorate of Chelvanayakam, Vadukoddai, in 1976 and drafted the  Vadukoddai Resolution loaded with fabricated history and fictitious geography.

 With all the backing of the false prophets of the Christian Church, both abroad and at home, Tamil extremism failed to get anywhere near their political  mirage. Despite feint protestations the hidden agenda of  the Catholic Church was, covertly and overtly, to create a separate state for the Tamils which would help the Tamil-wing of the Catholic Church to set up their separate, independent Church under an exclusive Tamil hierarchy. Their theology was bent on constructing an ethnic road to heaven for Tamils that ran through a separate Tamil Church, organized by Tamil hierarchy operating in the elusive Tamil Eelam. Their proposed  theologies and actions were premised on the assumption that it was possible to go to heaven through an Italian Pope in Rome but not through a Sinhala Cardinal in Colombo. 

 The hijacking of iconic statues and the  promise  of new Tamil theologies were to make-believe that God was on the side of the Tamils. Their fanatical commitment to Tamil extremism, which they equated to divine forces in the Old Testament, made them believe that they were re-enacting dramas of Biblical proportions like Moses leading his people out of Egypt. For instance, when Velupillai Prabhakaran forced the Tamil residents of Jaffna to withdraw into Vanni after he was defeated by Maj-Gen. Janaka Perera in 1995 (the Tamils terrorists never could  return to their heartland) Fr. Emmanuel wrote a pamphlet titled Let My People Go, in which he projected Prabhakaran as Moses leading his people out  of Egypt. In another instance, he is reported to have equated Prabhakaran to a latter day Jesus come to save his people.

 The  Tamil propagandists, exploiting every bit of fiction and theory to win over the West, particularly the Western churches, were going all out to prove that they were guided by a divine hand. Some even went to the extreme of claiming that Eelam was first mentioned in the Bible. If my memory serves me right, it was Kumar Ponnambalam Jr., among others,  who claimed in one of his propaganda pieces that “Eelom” was prophesied even in the Bible. The facts, however, are different. A place called “Elim” – note, not Eelam or Eelom – is mentioned in two places in the Bible. First in the Exodus 15:27  and 16:1. and second  in the Numbers, 33:9 which, more or less, repeats the Exodus

 Elim was the second encampment of the Israelites after they crossed the Red Sea. But the Tamil propagandist somehow skip the third encampment which was in Sin, perhaps because it was too close to the reality faced by the Tamil in Vanni. In James’ version it reads like this: “And they came to Elim, … and they encamped by the waters.” (Ibid 15:27). The next stop was in Sin and Exodus (16:1) says: “And they took their journey from Elim, all the congregation of  the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin…….”

 This happened in the second month after the Israelites left Egypt. And Exodus adds: “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Ibid- 16:2). And the  children  of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died in the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger..(Ibid – 16:3). Those who know the history of the exodus  of the Tamils from Jaffna may agree that, if  there was any prophecy in the Bible, it corresponds to what happened in Sin than in Elim. And if there was a benevolent interventionist force that showered bread and medicine to the Tamils in the wilderness of  separatists’ “Sin” it was the Government of Sri Lanka and not Prabhakaran. By all known accounts, it is hard to deny that Prabhakaran turned Vanni into a veritable “Sin-ni”.

 One of  the great tragedies of the universal God in all theologies has been the fragmentation of His image into a multitude of denominations, each with a twisted theology claiming to have a special relationship with Him. If the Jaffna Tamil “theologians” were to produce another theology for the Tamils it would not only be otiose but also a desecration of the brotherhood of man proclaimed so pronouncedly in the Bible. It would have been, at best, a political catechism more than a credible theology which any respectable Christian could have accepted in this day and age as doctrine for human salvation.

 The mono-ethnic extremism of Jaffna politics infiltrated and polluted even the religion of the Prince of Peace to justify the violent politics of the Vadukoddians. The active participation of the Churches in the fascist / racist politics of Prabhakaran’s politics is a denial of the non-violent principles laid down by Jesus. He told Peter  not  to draw the sword even to save him. If the sword could not  be drawn to save Jesus what right had Bishop Rayappu to run with the image of the Holy Mother of Jesus to save Prabhakaran?

 This betrayal of the fundamentals of Christianity, incidentally, is a phenomenon quite common to the Church. The Catholic Church actively supported Hitler in his anti-Semitic politics. The Church in Rome turned a blind eye to  the persecution of the Jews. Pope Pius XII is accused of giving more than a nudge-and-a-wink to the persecution of Jews by Hitler. The Catholic Church in Germany actively worked with Hitler, a Catholic, in glorifying the fascist regime. So did the Catholic Church in Franco’s fascist Spain.

 It is not surprising, therefore, to find Catholics in Sri Lanka playing ball with the Tamil Hitler in persecuting his own people, let alone other communities. In return these dictators did not touch the Church, or the protégés of the Church. Prabhakaran was one  of them. He attacked Muslims and Buddhists but he never touched the Church which was backing him internationally and nationally. The black mark against the Catholic Churchmen for aiding and abetting the inhuman  politics of Prabhakaran cannot be erased easily. It will remain as an indelible mark in the pages of history like the innocent Catholics who were massacred by Sankili on the eve of the Christmas of 1544.

 The complicit role of the Church in aiding and abetting Tamil Tiger crimes against their own people is symbolized in the tragic story related to me by Dr. Noel Nadesan , Editor of UTHAYAM in Australia, a novelist, a veterinarian and Tamil activist. Dr. Nadesan said that the Tamil parents, frightened by the threat of Tamil Tigers in Mullativu forcibly abducting their school-going children, handed over their teenage daughters to the local Catholic Church in Valayar Maddam, near the Mullativu coast, trusting them to protect their young ones. The next morning when the parents came to look for them they had all disappeared. In the night the Catholic priests had rung the LTTE office in Mullativu and tipped them about the Tamil girls in their care. The Catholic fathers had no compunction whatsoever in handing over the children of trusting Tamil parents to fill the depleted cadres of brutal Tamil Tigers.

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