Toronto Tamils seek stronger church voice in condemning Sri Lankan conflict

  • May 12, 2009
TORONTO - Toronto’s large Tamil Catholic community is grateful for the $600,000 the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has sent to Caritas Sri Lanka, but wants the church in Canada to do more.

The Jaffna-based arm of Caritas, the international Catholic relief organization, will use the Development and Peace money to aid at least 170,000 internally displaced refugees in government-run camps. Many Toronto Tamils have family trapped in the camps in wartorn Sri Lanka and are asking for more spiritual and material solidarity from the church in Canada.

“It’s great to hear that the church is supporting Caritas Sri Lanka,” wrote Annette Selvanayagam in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. Selvanayagam has been involved in protests and prayer vigils for Sri Lankan Tamils in Toronto.

Selvanayagam would like to hear her church also condemn human rights abuses and war crimes by the Sri Lankan government and armed forces.

“The church needs to take a stronger position in condemning such abuse in government-run camps,” she said.

“Catholics around the world should demand that aid workers and international press have greater accessibility to these camps. And, of course, we should demand the civilians should be given the right to leave from these camps instead of being held forcibly.”

Tamil distress broke out in more civil disobedience in Toronto late May 10. About 5,000 Tamils marched south from Queen’s Park to the Gardiner Expressway, where several hundred occupied the highway, blocking traffic for several hours. The protests continued the next day at Queen’s Park and across from the Sri Lankan consulate.

The protests followed another wave of bombings and deaths in the seven-square kilometre combat zone where the Tamil Tigers and about 50,000 civilians are hemmed in by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The Sri Lankan government has kept independent journalists away from the north end of the island country, but pro-Tamil Tigers web sites reported another 378 killed and 1,122 wounded the weekend of May 10-11.   

Human Rights Watch reports there have been “30 attacks on permanent and makeshift hospitals in the combat area since December 2008.” The attacks include shelling of Mullaivaikal Hospital May 2, killing 68 and wounding 87, Human Rights Watch said.

The Sri Lankan military claims it is not using heavy artillery and that it is targeting fighters operating near the hospitals.

Development and Peace sent $350,000 to Caritas Sri Lanka the week of May 10. That contribution was in addition to $250,000 sent March 23. Caritas Sri Lanka has access to all the government camps where it provides meals, medical service and counselling for 10,000 newly arrived families.

“We totally appreciate the money that has been given to help the people, the IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Sri Lanka,” said Jude Aloysius, a member of Our Lady of Good Health Tamil parish and board member of the Tamil Catholic Community of Toronto.

Aloysius said the Tamil community would like to know that Catholics are praying for peace in their homeland.

“Pray for the people who are affected by it. We Catholics strongly believe in prayer,” Aloysius said. “That is something the diocese can ask the whole Toronto diocese to pray that there will be peace in the land.”

Aloysius also believes the church in Canada should stand up for peace in Sri Lanka.

“I’m not expecting the archdiocese to take a position on which side is right or which side is wrong,” he said. “But a position that fighting should stop and some kind of peaceful, negotiated settlement should be brought to this conflict.”

The Tamil Catholic Community of Toronto on its own raised $5,951 for Caritas Sri Lanka and forwarded it in early May through ShareLife, the charitable fundraising arm of the archdiocese.

Canadian Tamils estimate that about a quarter of more than 200,000 Tamils in the GTA are Catholic.

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