Sri Lankan churches tread tough road to peace and reconciliation

By agency reporter
October 23, 2008

Trauma and bitterness are among the challenges Sri Lankan churches must face in promoting peace and reconciliation as the island nation is in the middle of an intense war, a World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation has learnt during a 19-23 October visit to the country.

Led by the WCC general secretary the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, the WCC delegation has encountered Sri Lankan church and civil society leaders and others. From them, the ecumenical visitors have learnt that "the trauma is deep and so is the bitterness. The inflicted wounds cut very deep," Kobia said at a public address delivered at a Bible Society auditorium in Colombo, the capital city.

"All these, one could say, are the consequences of a protracted civil war, but the fact is that the hatred, the bitterness, the pain are still there and one cannot wish them away or ignore them," said Kobia.

More than 80,000 lives have been lost since 1983 when ethnic Tamil rebels known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began an armed struggle for autonomy for the Tamil majority areas in the north and eastern regions, alleging discrimination at the hands of the Sinhala speaking Buddhist majority. The Sinhala majority accounts for over 70 percent of Sri Lanka's 19 million people.

Although "one is left with the chilling feeling that this country sits on a social time bomb," Kobia said, churches "by the very nature of their gospel mandate have a responsibility to promote peace and work towards the transformation of conflicts."

On Sunday 19 October 2008, Dr Kobia preached at an ecumenical worship at the Anglican cathedral in Colombo, organized by the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka. For the churches, Kobia pointed out, "there is no choice but to embrace this message [of reconciliation and peace] and accord it the urgency it deserves."

"There are wrongs to set right and wounds to heal in all communities. These need to be looked into very carefully in order to determine the most appropriate way of bringing about justice and reconciliation," he added.

True to Sri Lanka's ethnic diversity, the two hour long ecumenical service was conducted in three languages – English, Sinhala and Tamil. The service was followed by an hour of ethnic dances of both the Sinhala and Tamil communities.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.