Peace draws 400,000 to forest shrine festival

[TamilNet, Thursday, 15 August 2002, 16:38 GMT]
More than four hundred thousand Sinhala and Tamil devotees from all parts of Sri Lanka thronged the Madhu feast this year, which concluded Thursday. "The number of devotees is unprecedented. After a gap of nineteen years the devotees of the Madhu Maatha (Ave Maria) poured out their suppressed devotion. The hundreds of thousand faithful who flocked to the shrine have expressed their love for peace. Everyone who gathered here have shown that they are against war," Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph, the Bishop of Mannar told TamilNet. The forest shrine of Ave Maria is in his diocese.

"The Madhu shrine and its precincts should be declared a zone of peace under the guardianship of the Catholic Church," the bishop said.

Vatican representative at Madhu feast 2002The pilgrims came in more than ten-thousand vehicles, Tamil Eelam Police officers said. On Wednesday alone, 95 thousand pilgrims came from several parts of the island, sources said. About 6000 went to the shrine from the other parts of the Mannar district the same day. The Madhu Road was open throughout Wednesday night. The Sri Lanka army opens the road to the public only once a year for the festival.

Sri Lanka’s Minister for Interior, Mr. John Amaratunga, Minister for Rehabilitation Mr. Jeyalath Jeyawardena and TNA MP for Vanni, Selvam Adaikalanathan paid homage to Ave Maria in Madhu.

Markus Fernando at Madhu feastThe mass Thursday morning was observed by Vatican representative, Rt. Rev. Thomas Yeh Seng Nan, Archbishop Malcom Ranjith, Bishop of the Chilaw diocese, Marcus Fernando and Bishop of Jaffna, Rt.Rev. Thomas Soundranayagam.

George Santhiran Avaikumaran, the Superintendent of the Tamileelam Police in charge of the Festival arrangements said that he and his department did not expect such huge crowds. “Only one attempted theft was reported until Wednesday evening and there were three minor traffic accidents. Our personnel in mufti caught a person who tried to snatch a gold chain”, he said.

TE police cheif Madhu-2002Hundreds of constables and officers of the Tamil Eelam Police force were deployed to keep order in the general area of Madhu, sources said. The Sri Lanka Police was last deployed to regulate the crowds at the Madhu festival in 1983.

The Tamil Eelam Police prohibited the consumption of alcohol in the precincts of the Madhu shrine. The TE Police seized over five thousand bottles of liquor from persons entering the precincts of the Church, sources said. In many cases the alcohol was mixed in large Cocoa Cola bottles, according to them.

The Sri Lanka Telecom set up four temporary connections for the benefit of the pilgrims in the festival area. The Madhu Post Office too was given a temporary connection, SL Telecom officials in Mannar said.

Tamileelam police at Madhu


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