Clergy from the Church of England are being invited to provide respite for priests in war-torn Sri Lanka. They will take over in safe regions, while Sri Lankan priests support those in conflict zones.
Lanka Nesiah, speaking on behalf of Bishop Duleep de Chickera of the Diocese of Colombo, explained: "There is a great need to provide relief to our clergy in the north and east. We will not place visiting clergy in conflict areas or expose them to any kind of danger. Instead, Chickera proposes to send some of our clergy from other parts of the country to provide respite to clergy in the north and east."
The Anglican mission agency USPG has offered to sponsor volunteer clergy from the Church of England to serve in Sri Lanka for periods of between one and three months.
In 2005, USPG sponsored three Church of England clergy to provide respite for Sri Lankan clergy in areas affected by the tsunami of 26 December 2004.
Sri Lanka's Buddhist Singhalese government is currently attempting to eliminate opposition from the so-called Tamil Tigers, who want an independent Tamil state in north-east of the island. Thousands have been killed and the UN has warned of a 'bloodbath'.
The Church of Ceylon - which is the Anglican church in Sri Lanka - includes people from both Sinhalese and Tamil communities. It is working for peace and providing what support it can to those affected by the fighting.
A missionary in Sri Lanka wrote this week that the Tamil Tigers have been confined to a small area in the north-east of the country, where they were hiding behind a "human shield" of civilians, estimated varyingly at between 80,000 and 200,000 people.
The missionary stated: "The true death toll of this war may never be known. Figures given by the government usually tell of the army inflicting huge casualties on the Tamil Tigers; there are rumors of lorries full of bodies. The need to keep the true human cost of the war from the people, and to keep up the morale of the army, partly explain the diminishing press freedom and a deteriorating human rights record that is regularly criticized by foreign governments."
The Rev Jessie Anand, USPG's regional desk officer for South Asia, said: "Sending clergy to partner churches is not a new mission for USPG. By doing this, USPG is helping to raise a prophetic voice for affected partner churches at the right time with the right people. This will in turn bring Christ into the situation."
USPG supports Anglican churches in 50 countries. Along with CMS, it is one of the Church of England's largest mission agencies. Its website is at: http://www.uspg.org.uk/