President Rajapakse's State Visit to The Vatican- In Retrospect

By Darmitha-Kotte

Sri Lankan President H.E.Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse was on a State Visit to The Vatican between 19th April and 23rd April 2007 on the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI. President Rajapakse was accompanied by his wife First Lady Shiranthi Rajapakse, Foreign Minister Bogollagama and Catholic Ministers of the current GOSL. To First Lady and the Catholic Ministers, the opportunity to visit The Pope and obtain his blessings personally, is a "graceful favour" granted to them by Pope Benedict XVI at the expense of our State. Wide publicity has been given to this visit in our local newspapers and other media channels as well as the international Christian media making it to be a landmark visit by a Sri Lankan Head of State to The Vatican. Leaving aside religion, this was one Head of State visiting another Head of State-let us say as publicized, it is to discuss matters of personal interest to both sides. The agenda ofcourse, is to get President Rajapakse to give in to their agendas which we doubt very much whether the President conceded?

Background and Build Up to The Vatican Visit:

We Sri Lankans can recall the fact, that when Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse was campaigning for the Presidential Elections in 2005 that Archbiship Rt.Rev.Oswild Gomis went on record in openly instilling fear in the minds of Christian voters when together with a devout Catholic Ceylinco Chief Lalith Kotelawela of SOLO-U fame appeared in newspaper advertisements "Christians Awake………….." in Sinhala,English and Tamil and the Catholic Churches in Ja-Ela, Kandana, Wattala,Katunayake and Seeduwa distributed anti-Mahinda Rajapakse election propaganda material a week before the elections in November 2005. We could not view this gesture, as an impartial gesture on the part of a Catholic religious leader in this country. However, once President Rajapakse proved that he was not be outdone and won the Presidential Elections- within a week of the election results being announced, we saw The Catholic Bishop's Conference headed by Archbishop Oswild Gomis smiling and shaking hands with President Rajapakse at Temple Trees! Therefore, we need to look deeper into the build up to the State Visit of President Rajapakse to meet Pope Benedict XVI in April 2007.

1. Religious Issues of Concern to The Catholic Church:

It is no secret that Christian fundamentalists including the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has been agitated about the introduction of the "Anti-Conversion Bill" in parliament. Even though on many occasions, Catholic Clergy has informed Buddhist Clergy that they too are against unethical conversions being conducted by Evangelists because their flock is also a target, when the Bill was presented in parliament, true to the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and The Bishop's Conference, they stood together with the Christian Evangelical Alliance in Sri Lanka and The Christian Council and filed a petition in the Sri Lankan Courts objecting to the implementation of the said Bill. They went to the extent of instilling fears in the international Christian community as well through their biased reporting which was highly distorted. In 2006 May when the Select Committee met various religious organizations to discuss the said Bill, the Catholic Archbishop went on record by suggesting "inter-religious committees" to handle such religious violations being conducted against Hindus, Buddhists and at times even against Muslims( especially in the East of Sri Lanka). A matter that needs legal intervention cannot be solved by a lay committee of which certain sections were themselves party to the criminal act of unethical conversions!

In any country, matters pertaining to religion are taken in the context of the composition of religious faith of the citizenry and due priority is given to the majority while the minorities work harmoniously within the framework of that country. However, in Sri Lanka it is strange that Catholics, Evangelists and fundamentalists together with other orthodox Christian groups are hoping to establish equal or superior status over and above the Buddhists and Hindus who are the majority of this country.

Although press releases from the Vatican did not specify the aspect of the religious aspirations of the Catholic Church in relation to Sri Lanka, this was definitely one matter of concern due to the reportings from the Bishop's Conference to The Holy See. Let us hope that The Vatican understands that Sri Lanka is a sovereign country with a culture and history of our own and the words in the Bible "Do Unto Others, What You Would Have Others Do Unto You" is respected in its entirety!

2. The Ongoing War Between the GOSL and LTTE:

It is again no secret, that the LTTE onslaught on innocent Tamil civilians and politicians in the North and East of Sri Lanka, government institutions and Southern politicians and Buddhist Clergy and Buddhist places of worship has had the full backing of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has gone on record as openly supporting the terrorists whom they prefer to call "Tamil rebels" instead of terrorists and hurling their attacks on The Armed Forces of a democratically elected government. Can anyone deny the fact that Bishops Swamipillai, Saundaranayagam and Rayappu Joseph have used the Tamilnet website, to release press statements attacking government troops and supporting the LTTE terrorists! Can anyone condone such action from a so called "responsible" religious denomination in Sri Lanka which professes to be willing to support the GOSL in solving the terrorist problem. On 17th August 2006 Bishop of Trincomalee and Batticaloa Bisop Joseph Kingsley Swamipillai spoke to Missionary Service News Agency(MISNA) and states that "weeks will pass before the international community wakes up and starts looking on this dies of the world"…. The yearning for international interference is quite obvious. The problem with the LTTE cannot be considered an ethnic conflict purely because thousands of Tamils live and work among the Sinhalese and Muslims in all parts of the country without any hindrance-if so, how can the terrorist inflicted mayhem be connected to ethnicity?

It has also gone on record, that the LTTE has brutally murdered Tamil politicians, Tamil civilians, abducted Tamil children to serve on their Children's Brigades and numerous are the reports which state that ordinary Tamils are fleeing the LTTE controlled areas. Why? Under the circumstances, is it difficult for sane thinking people to understand that the majority Tamil population of this country do not accept LTTE as their sole representative.

For nearly thirty years, LTTE terrorists have brought on untold misery to the entire country with their brutal terrorism and it is strange that the Catholic Church which proclaims to be law abiding, pampers and supports terrorism against the majority citizens of this country be they Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or Christian, Buddhist, Hindus or Islamic people. For nearly thirty years, the masses of the North and East have been deprived of democratic rights and living, continuous education for children or continuous employment for the adults. Monetary extortions are implemented on the poor hapless citizens while the Catholic Church looks the other side! Has the Catholic Church and The Vatican been following the extortions, money laundering, smuggling, etc that LTTE has been involved with and most lately the Credit Card Scam with is shameful indeed!

The duty and responsibility of a democratically elected government of any country, is the protection of her people against terrorism and for this, The Armed Forces have to be mobilized. When there is humanity or humanitarianism in the minds of terrorists- does the Catholic Church expect our government and Armed Forces to sit and twiddle their thumbs and play music?

The Armed Forces have systematically managed to restrict the activities of the terrorists and reclaim lost territory while pushing the terrorists further and further away from their original so called " rebel controlled areas." The ordinary citizens in the North and East are now showing signs of happiness that the government is succeeding in their efforts to reduce terrorism in those areas. The fact that LTTE terrorists are being pushed against the wall, is something that the Catholic Church and international communities and governments wish to prevent when they request President Rajapakse and the GOSL, to give up military action and sit down to peace negotiations with a terrorist group that does not want peace or to lay down their weapons- without their weapons, they have no power within the ordinary Tamil community, that is the blatant truth.

3. Interference from Diplomatic As Well As International Organisations:

It has been reported in the media, that while President Rajapakse was visiting Pope Benedict XVI in The Vatican, the Catholic Nuncio in Sri Lanka visited the Vanni to meet the LTTE terrorists, and Army Camps-what was the need for them to do this except to interfere in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. As a Diplomatic Mission in Sri Lanka, there are certain accepted norms practiced one of which is not to interfere in the internal affairs of a country. There is no difference in this action or that of the UN representatives, American Ambassador or Norwegian Ambassador visiting the LTTE terrorists to hold private discussions with them without representatives of our Foreign Ministry being present.

As far back as April 2006, Caritas Internationalis which is an active arm of The Vatican and Catholic Church has been calling for international mediation and UN peace keepers in Sri Lanka. Jane Kronner-Editorial Coordinator for Caritas Internationalis issued a statement "Caritas Calls for Urgent International Mediation in Sri Lanka" in the Caritas website. It stated " ………Caritas Internationalis through its local member Caritas Sri Lanka-SEDEC, has called upon the international community to take a mediation role between the rebel forces and the Sri Lankan government as a matter of urgency." May we politely ask Caritas, who gave them the authority to speak on behalf of the Sri Lankan internal conflict? They also conducted a major international "Caritas Peace Forum" looking at its peace-building and reconciliation work worldwide from 26-28th June 2006 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Caritas according to Ms. Jane Kronner is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations present in 200 countries and territories.

During the State Visit of President Rajapakse to meet Pope Benedict XVI in April 2007, it is reported that suggestions were made for UN peace-keepers to intervene in Sri Lanka to bring about a negotiated settlement with the terrorists! What is the urgency for The Vatican to call for UN peacekeepers into Sri Lanka when the issue is totally an internal affair within Sri Lanka? From the sequence of events we can trace that the keenness of The Catholic Church to invite foreign peace-keepers into Sri Lanka already began exactly one year ago and is not an idea of The Pope during this recent visit of our President!

Just like The Vatican and the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, the UNDP and UN, the EU, the USA, UK, Norway, the SLMM and Eric Solheim have all been siding with the LTTE terrorists and condoning their brutalities while pointing a finger at the GOSL and our Armed Forces from wiping out terrorism from this country. What is humanitarian in what the terrorists are doing to our citizens-if anyone could kindly define, it would help us to learn the difference of terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, UK, USA as against terrorism and humanitarianism in Sri Lanka or the other developing countries? As SLMM what has the Norwegians been doing except aiding and abetting with the terrorists to attack our Armed Forces and inflict damages to public property and civilian lives?

President Rajapakse's Visit and The Christian Press:

Both the international press and the local print media of which the majority editorial staff consists of Christians, a concerted effort has been made to show that the Sri Lankan President is willing to promote religious equality etc which shows how manipulations are being done.

Mr. Lynne Ockerz a well known Catholic and promoter of Christian ideology within the Lake House in his reporting in the Daily News of 19th April 2007 has gone truly berserk in his article "Vatican Meet Highlights President's Support for Religious Equality." Although the visit was a State Visit, it is quite obvious that Catholics were preying for an opportunity to push President Rajapakse into an uncomfortable situation knowing very well that he is a Buddhist but as Head of State in Sri Lanka, has given adequate allowance for believers of other religions to work within accepted norms. President Rajapakse has never discriminated against any other religion and there is absolutely no need to add agendas to suit the journalists to twist the actual proceedings of the visit. In his article Mr. Ockerz states …………"One is reminded of the Lankan President's commitment, on assuming office, to sustaining and supporting the freedom of the people to profess and practice a religion of their choice, through this momentous meeting in the Vatican." In this country there has never been a problem for believers of other faiths until Fundamentalist Christian Evangelists aggressively began to convert Buddhists and Hindus unethically and it naturally intruded into Buddhists and Hindus practicing "the religion of their choice"( to put in the same words of Mr. Ockerz). It is a very well known fact that he is the "mouthpiece of the Catholic Church inside the Lake House and it is not surprising to note how he has cleverly manipulated his words to suite the agenda of the Church!

The guiding values and principles of Caritas Internationalis based on the agenda of The Catholic Church although they sound extremely altruistic in their fervour to serve the poor and the destitute. In their website it states (in relation to the "Church") "Caritas is a socio-pastoral expression of the Church and will continue to make efforts to promote the social mission of the Church and to help the Church to see Caritas in its true role. In the section on "Cooperation" it is stated " Caritas is committed to developing close working relations with Catholic and other Christian, inter-faith and secular organizations which share our vision."

Now let us look at the views expressed by Caritas Internationalis in a press release dated 19th April 2007 found in their website ( titled "Caritas Says Peace Must Be Priority as Sri Lankan President Meets Pope" in relation to President Rajapakse's visit to The Vatican. "More than 40,000 people have been displaced in the North East of the country in the last month alone bringing the total to more than 180,000 that have fled their homes during the past year of the conflict. In some areas, aid agencies are being preventing from assisting displace people and access and protection for humanitarian support agencies remain key problems. Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis Duncan MacLaren said, "We welcome Pope Benedict's efforts in promoting peace in Sri Lanka in a conflict that has already wasted too many innocent lives" May we ask Mr. MacLaren where Caritas has been during nearly three decades and why they never approached the LTTE terrorists and demanded that they lay down their weapons and stop committing atrocities against innocent lives in the country? Why did Caritas remain silent when Norway disguised Prabhakaran the most brutal of terrorists worldwide as a Catholic Priest and smuggled him out of Sri Lanka and through Maldivian Immigration authorities in 2004- were they not condoning the act of cheating government authorities both in Sri Lanka and The Maldives? Mr. MacLaren goes on to state further in this press release "Each side involved in the fighting in Sri Lanka shows continuing disregard for international humanitarian law. The international community must follow the Pope's lead in pressing all warring parties in Sri Lanka to respect the safety and well-being of all civilians throughout Sri Lanka." Mr. MacLaren, has obviously not visited LTTE headquarters and met Prabhakaran to express these sentiments directly to the terrorist leader and to demand that they stop their brutality. If they stop their atrocities, there is absolutely no need for the Government of Sri Lanka to mobilize our Armed Forces to protect our civilians- it is as simple as that. Before the LTTE commenced there atrocities, Sri Lanka was a very peaceful country. On the other hand, we wonder whether Mr.MacLaren has told the USA and UK to stop their arrogant acts of terrorism against the Iraqi people and the Afghan people?

In this press release there are 3 points that Caritas Internationalis is demanding or urging:
" To immediate de-escalation of the conflict and progress towards a negotiated solution
" To accept a United Nations-appointed international human rightrs monitoring mission to effectively monitor violations of humanitarian law
" To participate in a serious dialogue on constitutional reform that acknowledges the aspirations of all minorities in Sri Lanka

Wonderful suggestions indeed! There is a saying in Sinhala " It is like playing the violin to deaf elephants" -LTTE terrorists do not understand "international humanitarian laws" that Mr. MacLaren is talking about and he should understand that in the first place before dictating to the democratically elected government of this country through press releases! It is necessary for Caritas Internationalis to file a case against LTTE terrorists in an International Court of Law against the violation of humanitarian laws- let him first succeed in winning that case and then he can turn to the Government of Sri Lanka and President Rajapakse as the next step. Constitutional reform in Sri Lanka is purely a sovereign matter for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans-not for Caritas or The Vatican to interfere! What is the earthly necessity to invite UN peace-keepers? They solve no problems except create more problems for the host country!

Incidentally, has the USA and UK followed international humanitarian laws when they invaded two independent countries and waged war against their civilians who are not even living as neighbours?

Caritas Internationalis is not The Vatican nor Pope Benedict XVI but a socio-economic arm of The Catholic Church and The Vatican. It is not in their TOR to dictate to President Rajapakse or the Government of Sri Lanka which is a sovereign and independent country with a democratically elected government as to what we should do within our own country, to solve our internal conflict of terrorism within our soil. It is high time that not only Caritas but all other international organizations learnt to respect the sovereignty of other countries, learnt to respect the socio-economic and religious composition in true sincerity before they attempt to demand or order us to listen to them-they must first and foremost accept, that ours is not a situation where the GOSL has first attacked civilians, it is a situation where terrorism has been pampered and nurtured by international organizations and countries for their own hidden agendas, and that it is the bounden duty and responsibility of the incumbent GOSL, to protect this country from terrorism and to wipe it out!



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