By Walter Jayawardhana

By this holy mass, Christians of the United kingdom remembered with gratitude – and gave thanks for the brave and determined soldiers, sailors and airmen and women who have sacrificed their lives to protect Sri Lanka against what is perhaps the most evil form of terrorism in the world said Rev. Tony de Alwis addressing a service of remembrance and thanksgiving holy mass at the Church of St. Mary Magdalen, Willesden Greeen, London.

Rev. Tony de Alwis said, “We will remember with gratitude-and give thanks for –the soldiers , sailors and airmen and women who have sacrificed their precious lives in order to protect our country against what is perhaps the most evil form of terrorism the world has known from modern times. Further, through the medium of this Mass we want to commit our troops who are still engaged in that struggle to All mighty God’s care and to ask that he will bless and guide all those who provide military and political leadership to them.”

The joint Protestant-Catholic mass of remembrance and thanks giving “for the valiant members of the Armed Forces of Sri Lanka who have died or are engaged in the struggle against terrorism” was held for the first time in the United Kingdom. Many Buddhist monks, on invitation converged on the church from Chiswick , Kingsbury, and Birmingham and were seated in a special enclosure arrangement close to the altar, showing their solidarity, led by Venerable Dr. Haandupalpola Mahinda Nayaka Thero. The church also put up Buddhist flags welcoming them. An expatriate Sri Lankan child, Miss Kesara Ushettige clad in a fancy dress of the army fatigues, and symbolically carrying the Sri Lanka Army flag walked in the procession that took Rev. Father Tony de Alwis, Church of England priest and Rev. Nimal Ponweera, the Chief celebrant of the mass and chaplain of the Sri Lankan Catholic community in the Diocese of West Minister, from the entrance of the church to the altar. The procession marched to the tune of traditional Sri Lankan drummers and the festive sounds of a conch blower clad in colourful costumes . Sri Lanka’s London High Commissioner Justice Nihal Jayasinghe placed the remembrance flower wreath of red poppies at the altar. Distinguished visitors including the High Commissioner and Mrs. Vajira Jayasinghe lit the traditional oil lamp before starting the holy mass. Head of the Parish Rev. Father Hugh MacKenzie welcomed the huge crowd who congregated for the Holy Mass.

Delivering his homily Rev. Father Tony de Alwis further said, “Father Nimal Ponweera and I decided that it would be entirely fitting that we should offer this Holy Mass for the repose of the souls of our valiant troops who have laid down their precious lives in order that the territorial integrity of our island nation may be preserved and the unique identity of our people secured for the future generations.”

Father de Alwis said, he and Father Ponweera also wanted to dispel the misconception that the Christians of Sri Lanka were unpatriotic by telling publicly how committed they were to mother Lanka. He said, “ It is a matter of great sadness for us Christians to realize that we are sometimes treated with great deal of suspicion by our fellow Sri Lankans. We are portrayed as people who do not really love our country. Our commitment to our nation is questioned. Some even believe that , on occasion , we appear to have sided with the enemy. Now I do not know for a moment blame anyone who think in that way about us. .Why? because the ultimate responsibility for such a poor image being projected of us rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of some of our own Christian leaders who have acted thoughtlessly and insensitively, if not downright foolishly, that is, when they have acted at all , or have otherwise remained silent when the situation demanded that they should speak out without fear or prevarication.”

“Now, thanks to a combination of inspired political leadership,’ said Father de Alwis, “ and dedicated and courageous military leadership , our little island home stands poised to overthrow the criminal gang who , for the last thirty years or so have terrorized our country Today, their claim to invincibility now lies in tatters. Today, the leaders of that gang who sent young unsuspecting cadres to their untimely death either as walking bombs or on the battlefield whilst they themselves sheltered in bunkers purpose built for their comfort, safety and security , are finding that those self same bolt homes far from being their refuge , are fast becoming their tombs.”

Father Tony De Alwis said while rejoicing the imminent defeat of organized terror the nation must be prepared for the chapter of time emerging after the war which he called “a greater challenge.” He called the challenge facing both the people and the government as the job of defusing explosive issues that could destroy national cohesiveness and unity in the future.

Reminding much work is already being done in that direction under the President he said it should be made possible for all our races to be pleased and proud to pledge allegiance to a common homeland.

Reminding the nation not to allow religious disharmony to creep into the space vacated by communal tensions if that happens the blood shed by the country’s valiant troops would be in vain.

Pleading the nation to hear them , Rev. De Alwis said , “ We Christians are totally committed to take our place alongside Sri Lankans of all other faiths and backgrounds in meeting the challenge of rebuilding our nation when the specter of terrorism has finally being lifted off the fair face of our motherland.”

He said they pledged to stand with others in being a beacon of light to all those who are concerned with establishing a just and fair society in our country when the present conflict is over. “ We certainly want to share with you the responsibility of ensuring that Sri Lanka achieves that true greatness of which we know she is eminently, capable“he said.

High Commissioner Nihal Jayasinghe in reply to the priest said the young people who did the supreme sacrifice for the country have done so , as Churchill said for our own tomorrow. He assured Father Tony de Alwis that there is no indictment at all on Christians that they are unpatriotic.

Venerable Dr. Haandupelpola Mahinda Thero also assured that there was no such general blame of non patriotism placed against Christians in the country. He said the effort of the two priests of the country who want to pray for an undivided Sri Lanka should receive the appreciation of the whole nation.

Rev. Father Nimal Ponweera, quoting patriotic verses from the London’s Sinhala publication, Sinhala Viththi said he prayed our nation should remain an undivided unitary state for another 2500 years and the abominable bunkers should be turned into tombs for those who practice insensate terror and the country should once again metamorphose to what was called a Dharma Dweepa ( an island of just society) .

In the pleasant fragrant air of incense burning the church was filled with melodious hymns that brought hopes of peace. They sang: “O’ Father thou hast promised, this isle shall wait for thee – The joyous isle of ocean, the jewel of the sea – Lo! We this island’s watchmen , would give and take no rest – For thus has thou commanded, till our dear land be blest.”

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