Today is the first Sunday after the second outbreak of COVID-19. In previous weeks and months services have been held according to Health Ministry guidelines, restricting numbers to 50 (or 50% of building capacity) by breaking up into multiple services, and strictly insisting on preventive measures like hand washing, wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing.
So there was little surprise when Circular CHA/ACC/COVID-19/2020 dated 9 Oct. 2020 was received by churches reiterating the same conditions as before. Churches readied accordingly. Thus, most churches that made do with 2 services and had returned to a single service as COVID-19 eased, now returned to two services again. Every other row of pews was blocked off with a rope or through removal. As necessary some had to move out of the main building and participate from outside verandahs looking in at the altar or pulpit through windows.
Where the Holy Mass was celebrated with bread and wine, the old form of intinction was reintroduced to avoid infection by using the same cup. (The word intinction stems from Latin intinctio, intingere “to dip into” so the priest dips the host in the wine changing the words of administration to “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”). Experts were not agreed on the origin of the practice. One said it comes from World War II when wine was scarce and intinction was resorted to, to save on the cost. Others claimed its origins to be older.
The shock came when the Kilinochchi police on 11 Oct. ordered Deacon Justin of St. Luke’s Tharmapuram to cancel the service. So also Rev. Fr. Daniel of St. Paul’s Kilinochchi was ordered to cancel the Eucharistic Service which is an obligatory exercise on Sunday for Catholics. Referring to the Circular by the Department of Christian Religious Affairs did not help with the police. They were firm that services need to be cancelled. The Roman Catholics in Kilinochchi also desisted as announcements to stop were made from loudspeakers.
The Department of Christian Religious Affairs is a strange department indeed. In titling the circular “COVID 19 Restrictions in Catholic and Christian Churches” they seemed to suggest that Catholics are not Christians; whereas the reality is that all Catholics are Christians and not all Christians are Roman Catholics. More is expected of a department tasked with looking after Christian Religious affairs.
The government through the police seems intent on intimidating the poorer sections of Tamils who are more reluctant to insist on their rights or to disobey orders from the jack-booted police. A good part of the population in Kilinochchi and surroundings is of Estate Tamil origin.
Recently Colombo Telegraph highlighted in the article titled “Our Fears Keep Us Down, Bereft Of Freedoms,” how the intelligence services have been intruding on innocuous meetings in the Vavuniya area and insisting on permission for meetings. Strangely this time it is the Kilinochchi police who have been using the jackboots to instil fear and extract obedience from Tamils.
The soft approach with state authorities towards the more powerful is evident. In Colombo for example, in May this year government officials on duty needed no curfew passes during curfew hours whereas in places like Jaffna the police insisted on lockdowns and curfew passes – as if to let the police enjoy bullying Tamils. The story of the Tamil Election Commission member being pursued through two police inquiries as to why he travelled from Colombo to Jaffna during non-curfew hours is still ongoing.
In Mannar, because the epidemic is centred round the powerful church, a certain relaxed leniency may be discerned. Several workers from Wennapuwa had come to Mannar to build an orphanage behind Bishop’s House. As soon as the Gampaha outbreak was announced, these workers, expecting liquor shops to be closed, had gone there where according to a witness the queue was near one-kilometer long and the distancing rule was ignored. Now the workmen are being tested. Two days since the test on 9 October of over 42, only some 27 results came back with 5 confirmed infections. The remaining 15 results came on 11 oct. with 3 positive. Fifty-one further tests were done on 10 October. Two clergymen were also tested. One was declared free. The other is the diocesan accountant and had dealings with the workers in paying them. His test, rather ominously, was repeated with no result yet. Despite the seriousness only the Bishop’s House and the two villages of Periyakadai and Pattiththottam (together having over 800 families) are in lockdown. Those working a few metres from these areas have been told “Come to work. But do not dilly dally here and there.”
Adding to the complications, a Mannar priest celebrated his ordination jubilee for which priests from all over came to felicitate him. Three priests from Jaffna who came are locked up in Bishop’s House Jaffna. Though tested two days ago, their results have not been released yet.
Generally no service in Jaffna was disrupted like those in Kilinochchi and Tharmapuram. Similarly services in Mullaitivu, Pallai, Uduthurai and Vavuniya proceeded unhindered.
Do the police in Kilinochchi have a Hitler Complex forcing their bloodthirst from the war days to take it out on minorities? (By Jaffna Correspondent)