7 February, 2023


Christ Church Jaffna Revived: A Long-Delayed Restoration From The Ravages Of War

Recall the period from late 1985 to mid-1987 in Jaffna. The Sri Lankan army was holed up in Jaffna Fort and most areas were under militant groups of various sorts. At the beginning of this period when the Sri Lankan Army, SLA, attacked an LTTE camp near Chullipuram bringing men in by helicopter, other groups came to their defence. The SLA withdrew. At the end of the period, the LTTE having consolidated its “only representative of the Tamil people” status  and massacred the other groups, the SLA felt the time was ripe to dislodge the LTTE from all areas it controlled. The degree of confidence varied with commanders. Kobbekaduwa was optimistic. Ranatunga was cautious.

The Army’s first move was Operation Vadamarachi in May 1987. We lived in fear expecting an assault on Jaffna. Civilians began fleeing by the thousands each day.

Bishop and Clergy with those Confirmed

In that period, a frustrated SLA like a routine each day at 6 AM and 6 PM at the changing of the guard fired shells in blind rage from the Jaffna Fort. The Tigers too were lobbing shells into the Fort. We civilians suffered. For us, it was the time to contemplate bomb-shelters in our homes. Households were divided because the army during Operation Vadamarachi shot dead those in homes with such shelters claiming they were supporters of the militancy. Not digging the shelters was equally dangerous. Without a shelter, this writer remembers standing under door jambs and writing desks with his infant children.

This was the time when Chinnakadai (Small Bazaar) area was badly damaged by army shelling. Periyakadai (Grand Bazaar) was spared because destruction there would have made the government’s vindictiveness towards its own citizens which it was bound to protect rather obvious to the outside world.

In May 1987, in anticipation of an operation, both shelling and counter-shelling got far worse, especially for the civilians. Earlier, civilians had lived in town despite the increased danger from shelling. This time most civilians evacuated. To save civilians and for geopolitical reasons the Indian airdrop followed. A young girl on whose birthday a packet of dhal was dropped on June 4 by the Indian Air Force, swears it was for her birthday.

But, then, shortly thereafter on 5 July 1987, Nelliady Madhya Maha Vidyalayam which had been turned into an army cantonment after Operation Liberation, was bombed with a suicide bomber and the soldiers there killed. (Whether it was a suicide bomber or not is questioned by the fact that the bomber was tied to his seat and his foot to the accelerator just in case he changed his mind).

The IPKF arrived. The rest is history.

Christ Church on Second Cross Street at the Main Street corner in Jaffna suffered heavily from shelling. The church had been consecrated on 26 June, 1872 under the Anglican Church of Ceylon. It had served the Burghers who occupied Chinnakadai and Bankshall street running through Chinnakadai with its famous fish market and beef stalls. An Anglican service in Portuguese was held regularly till 1925 according to parish lore. Although Portuguese families such as the Martineszes and the Vandendriesens had left by the late 1960s, by the 1970s there was only one Burgher, Ms. Silva the organist. The other members of the parish were all Tamils.

That Portuguese Burgher history of the church, however, gave it a cosmopolitan character. Worship was in English while all other Anglican parishes in Jaffna used Tamil. The parish was maintained as a special place of worship with masses in English in the Catholic Tradition. Sinhalese and other visitors to Jaffna were pastored in addition to the normal Tamil members.

However, from the late 1980s, the parish ceased to function because the building was damaged. Even the Tamil members of the parish, unable to stand the shelling, moved out of the area.

Bishop with, the Principal of St. John’s and Archdeacon on the left, and Deacon Daniel Vijeyathasan assisting on the right.

Today the parish is struggling. A man is squatting in the vicarage even as attempts were made to restore the church. On two separate occasions, soldiers who had seen a damaged statue of the Holy Virgin Mother, brought them to the church and left them there rather than let them be damaged further where they were. These were the only positive contributions to the church by army.

The Parish Church was restored partly under the previous Archdeacon of Jaffna, the Ven. Phillip Nesakumar working with the then Diocesan Bishop The Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera. Masses were begun regularly again in English from Jan. 2017 under Jaffna’s new Archdeacon, The Ven. Sam Ponniah. The church received its first episcopal visitation on Sunday 25 Feb. 2018 when the Rt. Rev. Dilo Canagasabey, Bishop of Colombo, came to the North and held a Service of Confirmation (in faith) for 21 persons.  He had attended Evensong at least once before.

Over 1500 Anglicans from Jaffna’s Anglican parishes (at Nallur, Chundikuli, Kopay, Urumpirai and Kokkuvil) joined in worship last Sunday.

Restoration was incomplete with divided thoughts on getting on with life as against maintaining the church in damaged state as a reminder of the evils of war. Now Bishop Canagasabey has ordered that one wall be maintained as a monument to the evils of man against man, and the rest of the church  be fully restored. Funds have been identified by the Bishop for completion of the restoration.

The issue now is members. With all previous members gone, will the parish even after restoration, get sufficiently numerous members to function with financial independence? The Methodist Church in Jaffna, just 2 blocks away by Central College, had similar problems but is successfully restored with a vibrant parish life under a full-time Minister. Their success is owed in part to the fact that the Methodists within the Jaffna Municipality have only that one church and cannot go away to other parishes in the Municipality like the Anglicans have done.

Christ Church is the only place in Jaffna where Tamils and Sinhalese can worship together. It has to succeed. One good sign is that an old parishioner, Ariaratnam of Ceylon Tobacco Company, has rebuilt his parents’ house on Fourth Cross Street and is a regular worshipper at Christ Church.

If Tamil expatriates truly want to help their homeland, they should return and live here, said another former member of the Diaspora who has returned and worships at his ancestral parish. (Report filed by a Jaffna reader) 

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Only salvation and peace in the Island will come if you renounce false gods, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. These religions cannot save you and bring you eternal peace. Nations that accept Christ are peaceful and prosperous with no Hindu Tamil Terrorism or No Islamic terrorism. Accept Jesus and clean up Jaffna of false prophets. May there be a Christian Kingdom soon in Jaffna.

    • 10

      Like Africa and South America LOl

    • 10

      Like the evangelical Christians of USA will the Christian Kingdom give the right to guns?

      • 2

        The 23rd Psalm:
        The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

        2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; …

        3 He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness —

        4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

        We have his rod and staff to protect us his sheep, and need no guns and fear no evil.


        • 3

          Did the Portuguese and Spaniards conquer their colonies with the Good Lord’s rod and staff?

          • 1

            Prof. Sivasegaram,

            Your ant-Christian venom is showing through. You have outed yourself.

            The reference is clearly about pacifist protection from the Lord in which Christians take solace. You have twisted it into offensive intent.

            • 4

              Yes, the Christianity that I value is pacifist. I attend a Quaker meeting if ever I hear there is one.

              But the Established Churches are different. It is now two years since I wrote three articles on how they run the Anglican schools. Do you get the title of the middle article from this link?


              You can easily navigate to the other two. It was four hundred responses and counting when CT announced a deadline for comments. No responses from “the authorities”.

              I’m sure that the Bishop intended well when he set out on his episcopate, but he’s now got mired. Some have naively suggested that I try to meet him. I’ve made dozens of polite requests, but he’s been dodging them all. Why doesn’t he want to meet a retired teacher like me?

              Clearly, I know too much. This is a public appeal to him to be the “People’s Bishop” (and he s specifically said NOT a “Confirmation Bishop”) when he addressed his first Diocesan Council meeting, when I went along to hear what he would offer.

              He knows how to contact me.

    • 9

      Almost all of Africa is Christian and 100% of South America is Christian. Can you tell me how these countries are peaceful and prosperous? Instead of spreading these bogus statements and beliefs, preach and practice some peace, togetherness, compassion and equality – that’s the real message of Christ – not your superiority complex.

      • 3

        You are right, but not quite precise on statistics.
        In Africa Muslims and Christians are comparable in number, each around 45% or less.
        In South America it is more like 90% Christians.
        All religions contribute to strife when they become public matters.

        • 0

          Dear SJ,

          Thanks for correcting those statistics.

          • 2

            The number of Anglicans in Sri Lanka is now 24,000. This is disastrous for the “Established Church” which the “Church of Ceylon” (yes, it’s still called that; it won’t be a bad thing for readers to work out why it hasn’t become “The Church of Sri Lanka”) has as its ethos.

            Readers may find this shocking. Please check.

            I’ve referred to the Quakers. They were never in to the numbers game. There are none in Sri Lanka as far as I know. Sad.

      • 0

        Look at Hindustan! Is it prosperous or even civilized?

        If all Tamils worshiped Allah (PBUH) or Prophet Jesus they would not take up arms and die in hundreds of thousands. Worship the one true god- the god of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) (PBUH). Instead of worshiping genitals.

        The northern part of Africa is Islamic.

        • 4

          Factually the history clearly indicates that all the so called Religions including Islam and Christianity are full of violence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years%27_War; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Wars_of_Religion;https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Troubles; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosnian_War; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Civil_War; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_attack; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_murder).

          Repentance of all as individuals and community beyond all the so called labels in the name of religions, ethnicity, language, gender… is necessary.

          Let us not try to become God over everything.

          Revd. Fr.S.D.P.Selvan
          St. Mary’s Church,

          • 3

            Thanks, Revd. Fr.S.D.P. Selvan,

            It is good to know that there are a few priests like you who try to follow God rather than Satan.

            I hope that what I’m saying is understood. I’m going back to what I remember from reading Milton’s Paradise Lost years ago. No longer is this the sort of thing that people nowadays, so let me give this link:


            Milton was a Puritan who had dedicated himself to God, but there was one critic who said that without realising it, he was of the Devil’s Faction himself.

            There are so many questions asked by us that The Church dare not answer. Of course this goes for all organised religions.

            Thanks also for clearly identifying yourself. In my case, being a non-entity myself, I try to become the voice of the “Silent Sinhalese” by usually posting under my pseudonym, but occasionally giving my identity unambiguously, and even my contact details to ensure that I’m not anonymous.

            Fr Selvan, I’ve done a bit more exploring and am astounded to find that your church belongs to the Colombo Diocese of the Church of Ceylon. It used to be the case that only Roman Catholic priests used “Revd” and “Fr” together.

            Never mind all that. The rest is all clear. May God bless you for bring the honest humble man that you are.

    • 1

      Jesus Christ Resurrected. Next the missing people?

    • 3

      May you understand Christianity soon, dear BornAgain.

    • 0

      You sound so much like a Buddhist. When did you arrive from Thailand? Need I say more!

    • 0

      Born Again:-
      Buddhism does not ask us to believe in a God/Gods!
      The Buddha encouraged us to Exert Ourselves in order to attain the Highest Level Possible!
      Praying to Buddhas cannot do it for us. Buddhas ‘Only Show the Way’!

  • 3

    ‘ Christ Church Jaffna..where Tamil and sinhalese can worship together..’.
    Yes, because we are all bretheren.
    We are all one in Jesus Christ.
    May our Lord send a True and sincere
    Shepherd to serve the bretheren in Jaffna.
    Not someone who ‘ peddles the word
    Of God for profit’, preaching a health and wealth gospel –
    Neither those who seek guns and weapons for protection-
    But a humble servant of the Lord who
    Will truly preach God’s word and care
    For his flock. Lord bless you in all this dear brothers and sisters.

    ” Therefore you shepherds..hear the word of the Lord…my flock was scattered…and no one was seeking or searching for them..
    I will seek my flock.
    I will seek that what was lost, and
    Bring back what was driven away..
    Bind up the broken,and strengthen
    That which was sick..
    Thus they shall.know,that I,the Lord
    Their God am with them,and they are My people,” says the Lord God. ( Ezekiel.ch.34.)

  • 2

    Diaspora should not return now. They should try and ‘Resurrect’ the people in dire needs to live decently by giving funds as government will never stretch their hands to help them .

    • 0

      ‘ If Tamil expats truly want to help their Homeland,they should
      Return and live there’
      Yes,sharing and caring,living among
      Them. how encouraging that would
      Be..a great comfort.

  • 0

    Acts.ch 4.
    ‘ no one said, ” that’s mine.
    They shared everything’.
    And so.it turned out that not a person
    Among them was needy….
    The apostles distributed it according to each person’s need.’
    The rich brother saw to the need
    Of his poor brother – they didn’t depend on the govt. But on each other.

  • 1

    The BBC reproduced (2.March, 2018)a letter written by Gandhi on Jesus Christ. In it, he said:

    “Dear Friend, I have your letter. I am afraid it is not possible for me to subscribe to the creed you have sent me. The subscriber is made to believe that the highest manifestation of the unseen reality was Jesus Christ. In spite of all my efforts, I have not been able to feel the truth of that statement.”

    Gandhi wrote that Jesus was ‘one of the greatest teachers of mankind’
    “I have not been able to move beyond the belief that Jesus was one of the great teachers of mankind. Do you not think that religious unity is to be had not by a mechanical subscription to a common creed but by all respecting the creed of each?”

    • 3

      But Gandhi followed Jesus’ teaching via Tolstoy’s doctrine of nonresistance to evil learnt from Jesus and politically he also knew that Christians/British people would empathise with his move.

      Ahimsa = “Put your sword in its case.”

      Ragupathi Rama killed. Krishna killed and manouvered Karna’s killing. Siva killed. Vishnu killed. Amman killed. Even Prophet Mohammed killed.

      Christ did not resist his killers but swallowed hatred. When St. Peter tried to defend him he ordered Peter: “Put your sword in its case.” He had the power to walk away unseen or like Elisha bring death upon those who teased him.

      But Love alone is God’s nature, love even your killers and Judas’.

      • 3

        and love those who belong to other religions. Let them be and try not to convert through crusades or through other forms of coercion. As in the case of the Buddha and the Prophet Morhamed, praised be his name, so in the case of Jesus, those who follow him have caused humanity untold sufferings.

      • 3

        Dear DH and Mama Sinhalam,

        Yes, as a school boy I read Tolstoy, and then found my way towards Gandhi and the Society of Friends.


        The Quaker way has weaknesses. They are just too tolerant and unpossessive. Their children are not usually persuaded to follow their parents ways – that’s why their numbers are so few.

        But that seems to be what Christianity ought to be. The Quakers have always been ahead of their times. Can you imagine any other Christian woman having the courage to try to discuss religion with the Ottoman Turk Sultan three hundred years ago (at the height of Colonialism) as Mary Fisher did?


        Those are the attitudes to take in to the World today when we must learn to live in a pluralistic world.

        What has become of me? I’d say that I’m getting ever more confused: I just don’t know.

        That also amounts to knowing something!

  • 2

    Let me state the following historical issues in the history of Christ Church, Jaffna:
    1. Ministry of Lay Training: Not exclusively worships but also inclusively Lay Traning Activities taken in1989 – 1990 by Revd Dr I H Victor.
    2 . Publication of books: In the time of Ven. S.P.Nesakumar Fr.A.Stephen’s two books (Erai Vilumiam, Eraiyunmai) were published (2008 May & 2010 August)
    3. Reconciliation work: There wete trainings given to fishermen and farmers by Christian Workers Fellowship (Revd Kadirkamar in 2004 – 2005)
    4. There were programes on Communication Development for Children led by Archdeacon Ven Nesakumar implemented by Revd V P Thanendra
    5. Meditations initiated by Jaffna Christian. Union and Revd Fr Jeyaseelan conducted in Fridays in 2004 – 2005
    6. Ministry of Conflict Management and Peace Study: In the time of Bp Dulerp De Chickera the above ministry taken place. (This Church was a sign of war and letit promote peace & this should be a place for research on peace)
    7. Wider Ecumenical Meetings taken place in 2010 – 2016 and Church of American Ceylon Mission use this for their services

    Worshiping of Tamils and Sinhallese together (2001 – 2003 in St John’s) is possible in all the Churches including this place.

  • 2

    According to the living history Christ Church, Jaffna was not only a exclusive place of worship but a place where many sctivities taken place.
    Lay training given (by Revd Dr I H Victor in 1989 – 1990), Books were published (Erai Vilumiam 2008 Eraiyunmai 2010; Author : Fr.A.Stephen), Reconciliation training ptogrammes held (Christian Workers Fellowship – Revd Kathirkamar conducted for farmers & fishermen in 2004 – 2005), Cources on Communication Development for Children held (by Archdeacon Ven S P Nesakumar and Revd V P Thanendra), Meditations takdn place (led by Jaffna Christian. Union and conducted by Fr Jeyaseelan in 2004 – 2005) and Ministry of Conflict Management & Peace Studies including Researches initiated by Bishop Dulerp De Chickera and this Church considered as a sign of war in order to promote peace.
    From 2010 this was used for wider ecumenical activities. Church of. American Ceylon Mission also use this Church for their worship.
    Worshipping of Tamils and Sinhalese together (2001 -2003 in Jaffna St John’s) is possible in any place including this Church.

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