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'It is a genocidal war' - Father Francis Joseph from inside the No Fire Zone

On May 10, 2009, Catholic Priest Father Francis Joseph wrote to the Pope from inside the No Fire Zone, calling on the Church to break its silence on the massacre of Tamils. Father Francis Joseph disappeared after surrendering to the Sri Lankan Army alongside hundred of LTTE cadres and high ranking LTTE officials in May 2009.

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To His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,

Living among nearly 365,000 Tamil people in the so called ‘No Fire Zone’, most recently demarcated by the Sri Lankan Government (that is May 08 2008) where normal channels of communication to the outside world is completely cut and knowing that any other mode of contact would be blocked by some of those close to and around Your Holiness, I, a priest of the Diocese of Jaffna, am prompted to write this open letter to Your Holiness after a night of terror and horror, the worst of the daily ordeal meted out by the Sri Lankan Security Forces on the innocent Tamil civilians huddled in the so called ‘No Fire Zone’ of about three square kilometres.

Last night’s toll of the dead is 3318 and of the injured more than 4000. It was a barrage of artillery, mortar, multi-barrel shelling and cluster bombs, weapons which Sri Lankan government denies using on the civilians in the No Fire Zone. The cries of woes and agony of the babies and children, the women and the elderly fill the air that was polluted by poisonous and unhealthy gases and pierced the hearts of fathers and mother, of elders and peasants of old men and women of all walks of life.

I am not unaware that this letter would arouse the wrath of the Sri Lankan government which will resort to the revenge by killing me. I am also not unaware that some of the Church authorities may find some reasons for excommunicating me. But I deem it my duty in conscience to point my finger at the Church for its silence while some of the countries like USA, UK, France and some of the European Union countries and others, even the UN have voiced their dismay at the way the Sri Lankan Government is conducting a war to annihilate the Tamils in Sri Lanka by open and subtle means- aerial bombardments, shellings of all kinds, by starvation, and killing the people by restrictions of food and medicines.

The silence in the face of violence of the Church which should have been in the forefront to advocate the cause of the Truth and Justice and the Freedom of the downtrodden and derrelected people will certainly erode its moral authority in the world.

Let it be known that under the guise of eradicating terrorism, the Sri Lankan Government is waging the war to annihilate the Tamil nation. It is a genocidal war.

Let it also be known that “a band of dedicated youth who are determined to fight for Eelam who believe in the righteousness of their cause, who regard themselves as ‘freedom fighters’ rather than criminals who are convinced that the state itself is violent and can be overcome only by violence…I say, it is the state terrorism that is spreading more terrorism and slowly converting the Eelam movement into a peoples’ movement for daily the government is alienating more and more people in the north.” (Letter to His Holiness Pope John II- June 5, 1983, written by Bishop Deogupillai, Bishop of Jaffna, Sri Lanka)

It is unfortunate that the Church in Sri Lanka does not have the wisdom and guts to air her views forcefully and unequivocally regarding the ongoing war. Ordinary people see the Church in the Tamil Homeland, such as the Church of Jaffna, of Mannar and of Trincomalee-Batticaloa, as a powerful highly organised Institution which should speak out fearlessly for Justice and Truth which is blatantly denied and distorted by Sri Lankan authorities.

Let me, Your Holiness, quote a passage from the book, ‘Historical Relations of Ceylon’ written in 1681 by Robert Knox, a British sailor detained for twenty years in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

“They (Sinhala authorities) are crafty and treacherous to be trusted upon any professions, for their manner of speaking in very smooth and courteous in so much. Those who are unacquainted with their disposition and manners may easily be deceived by them. For they make an account of no conscience lying, neither is it any shame or disgrace to them if they be catched in telling lies it is so customary.”

This passage from Robert Knox written in 1681 (also quoted by Mudaliar in his article ‘Mockery of Justice’ published in the Sri Lankan news paper Sunday times, May of 1988 p.10) shows us the true nature of the Sinhala authorities with regard to their ability to practise deception on others, including the Church and international community.

Within the last four months more 15,000 innocent Tamils have been killed and more than 20,000 injured in this war. Nearly 190,000 people have to leave their traditional land of their birth in utter fear of being killed brutally by indiscriminate shellings, bombardments by the marauding and advancing Sri Lankan army. 365,000 Tamils in the ‘No Fire Zone’ are on the brink of death. The time is running out. Some drastic measures have to be taken. I am sure that the Catholic Church has a definite role to play in the safety of the Tamil people.

When the church chooses to remain silent in the face of public outrage committed at its very institutional centres, the ordinary people will conclude that the giant church which is potentially a source of immense moral authority, is in fact, cowardly. Such stance in the form of silence as it was in the time of Nazi concentration camp by Pope Pius XII will in time earn the church to lose both its moral authority and esteem. Such failure to stand up for justice and dignity of the innocent Tamils here means that the church becomes more and more disconnected with time and events becoming a part of the onset of anarchy.

Knowing that diplomacy comes so perilously near deceitfulness, that our trust in those who are proficient in its exercise, dwindles as time passes by. The Tamils struggling for freedom look up Your Holiness to come to their rescue.

So I feel that public airing of views by Your Holiness however unpalatable it may be to the government or anyone else, will certainly rescue and give us immediate and necessary sense of direction to the world to the world community.

Imploring Your Holiness Blessings

(Signed) Rev. Fr. G. A. Francis Joseph

For the Diocese of Jaffna, ordained in 1958 in Pune, India.