Praying for a Tamil community in need

  • June 22, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - There have been protests with thousands of Tamils out on the streets, but on June 11 the young Tamil activists organized a different sort of gathering in a basement classroom on the campus of the University of Toronto.

A student-organized Tamil multi-faith prayer service featured prayers from Sikhs, Christians, Hindus and Muslims and testimonials from young Tamils whose families have been devastated by the war in Sri Lanka.

“The community, they also need prayers,” said organizer Jessica Chandrashekar of the Canadian Humanitarian Appeal for the Relief of Tamils (HART). “We also need something that is spiritual. Prayer and faith are really an important part of people’s lives.”

Between January and May more than 20,000 civilians were killed in fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, according to the London-based Times citing confidential United Nations sources.

“All these people who passed away, they did not have a proper burial,” said Lavanya Nithiyapanantharasan. “We need to pray for these people.”

Nithiyanantharasan was also there to pray for the survivors. Her family has been in touch with her cousins, aunts and uncles in the government-run refugee camps by cell phone. One of her cousins has clearly suffered severe trauma, she said.

“‘Aunty, come and save me.’ That’s all she says,” said Nithiyanantharasan.

With each phone call, the cousin repeats the same conversation, unable to remember the previous call.

Another relative keeps her cell phone hidden and only makes calls from dark corners within the camp. She tells of her fear of the soldiers who patrol the camp.

“The only thing we can do is cry and pray for them,” said Nithiyanantharasan.

Prayers offered included a prayer for justice from Muslim representative Steve Rockwell, host of Vision TV’s Call of the Minaret.

“We are in pain, O Lord. We ask you for justice,” said Rockwell. “You are the ultimate judge.”

The Sikh delegation offered traditional, liturgical prayers for peace in classical Punjabi.

“When somebody is suffering, it’s everybody’s duty to pray,” said Ranbir Singh, community liaison co-ordinator for United Sikhs.

Catholic and Sinhala-speaking Buddhist representatives were unable to appear because of last-minute scheduling conflicts, Chandrashekar said. HART is actively seeking dialogue with Sinhala-speaking Sri Lankans in Toronto and sees religion as a good starting point, she said.

“Whenever we say never again, that should mean something,” she said.

It was important that the prayer service not be a Tamil-only event, said Chandrashekar. She said all Canadians should be concerned about the fate of more than 200,000 Tamils in Sri Lankan refugee camps. The Tamils who live next door or work with you probably have relatives in the camps, said Chandrashekar.

“It’s also about what’s happening to your fellow Canadians,” she said.

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