By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
The mainstream Churches of all denominations aligned themselves with the LTTE in varying degrees of connectivity. In particular, the clergy in the Tamil-dominated Churches threw their full weight behind the Velupillai Prabhakaran’s one-man regime. At the grass root level as well as the international level Prabhakaran could not have dominated the Tamil constituency and got away with his brutalities without the blessings of the Churches. The Churchmen, some of them drawn from the Churches in the Western world, including Australia, became the most formidable shield that gave him cover – not to mention a legendary status — even after he was banned as a ruthless terrorist. Some of the Churchmen, in fact, were falling over each other to propitiate Velupillai Prabhakaran – the mass killer of his political rivals and Tamil dissidents. Lending an ecclesiastical, if not a theological, hand to maintain his fascist regime was the accepted norm of the time.
In Sri Lanka the Catholic Church played a leading role in protecting Prabhakaran. Other denominations too joined Prabhakaran’s political bandwagon, either overtly or covertly, but the critical role was played by the Catholic Church. Of the non-Catholics, Bishop Kenneth Fernando of the Anglican Church stands out as a leading example of Churchmen who was bending over backward to appease Prabhakaran’s fascist regime. One day he returned from a brief visit to Velupillai Prabhakaran in the Vanni and, flanked by the pro-LTTE Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, and Charlie Abeyesekera, the shadowy NGO figure, he announced, at a press conference, that the Tamil terrorist leader, who had decimated the entire Tamil leadership, was “humane”. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read his paean published in the Daily News.
I sought an interview with him and he was a cock-a-hoop when I met him in his office. With the presumptuous air of a man who had seen the light at the end of the tunnel, he confirmed that Prabhakaran was “humane”. There was no point in arguing with him because he had already made up his mind to exonerate him of any guilt. It was not a Christian mission of forgiveness but a political act to ingratiate himself with the Tamil tyrant. Gaining access to him – a rare opportunity — was seen by the Bishop as an act of political grace. His over-enthusiastic reaction to his meeting with Prabhakaran made me feel that the Church had gone over the top.
Bishop Fernando was aware of the notoriety earned by Prabhakaran as the most prolific and efficient grave digger ever produced by the Tamils to bury the Tamils. Prabhakaran felt justified each time his suicide missions succeeded in hitting the target. His triumphalism and that of his followers reached a pinnacle when the Tamil suicide bomber assassinated Rajiv Gandhi : it convinced them of his invincibility and his power to kill at will, a power that elevated him to the status of “Surya Devan”. Each death did not diminish him. Instead it increased his own confidence and his belief that he has been chosen for a divine mission. It also increased his stature among his followers. His war chest increased with each death he scored to impress his power to kill. His power was measured essentially by his power to kill. The blood-thirsty Tamil Diasporans were falling over each other to finance the massacres. They were vicariously sharing his power to destroy human lives. They felt that Prabhakaran has empowered them as an indomitable political force. They invested their faith in him because he was seen as the force that would bring to them their elusive kingdom.
The bigger the massacres the bigger the collection. And, O, how the money rolled in to the coffers of Prabhakaran, rising to match the rising pile of corpses! He had also imposed a reign of terror. The Tamil academics, intellectuals, priests and their fellow-travellers justified it as a necessary evil to achieve their goal. But they were the first to cry foul if any act of the government affected their interests. The Jaffna Tamil “tendency to get worked up only when its own rights are at stake” was exposed by Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole when he wrote : “When Muslims from Jaffna were asked to leave simply on the basis of the ethnicity, Tamil nationalism said they were being ejected for giving information to the army. The most we could bring ourselves to say was that it was a “mistake”. On the other hand, when Tamils are rounded up in Colombo as informants on the basis of ethnicity, Tamil nationalism discovered human rights.” (p. 29, C. W. Thamotherampillai, Tamil Revivalist, Nethra, Vol 2. No 1, Oct –Dec 1997, edited by Regi Siriwardena, ICES publication).
The double standards adopted to exonerate the Tamils and accuse only “the Sinhala-led government” distorted the discourse on the North-South conflict. The Churches, NGOs, academics and the pro-separatist lobby used the double standards to cover up the Tamil crimes against the Tamils too. Prabhakaran was relying on the moral support given by these elite groups to pursue his violent politics. And the atrocities committed by Prabhakaran were well known to Bishop Kenneth Fernando. So why was he projecting Prabhakaran as “humane” when the “Surya Devan” had no such qualities? Clearly, the Bishop was not only lying but he was ready to tuck his cassock up and play dirty politics. It was so dirty that I felt like having a bath after the interview. But it was Saturday morning. I had a deadline to keep. So I sat down in my office and gave him the just deserts he deserved in my political column in the Sunday Observer.
In defending Prabhakaran I knew he was not doing anything that other Christian leaders hadn’t done before. The post-Constantine history has been soaked in the blood of those who were persecuted and executed by the ruthless forces of politicised Christianity. Genocidal massacres in the Christian West reached its peak in the 20th century. The left-wing historian Eric Hobsbawm labelled the 20th Century as “the most murderous century” (“…..187 million ‘megadeaths’”) in his book, The Age of Extremes, (p.12 – 13, Abacus, 1994). From the time of the Crusades the Church had played an insidious role that led to the “megadeaths”, most of which occurred in the Christianised regions. The Catholic church was hand in glove with dictator Franco when he massacred thousands of Communists who lost in the Spanish Civil War. The Pope blessed Mussolini’s forces marching into Abyssinia. The Church was also behind the Portuguese dictator Salazar. When Pope Pius XII turned a blind eye to Catholic Hitler’s ethnic cleansing he became a silent partner in the Holocaust. In S. Africa the Church used the Bible to defend apartheid. In the most horrific of massacres which took place in Rwanda it is the Churches – particularly the Catholic Church – that faced severe criticisms for the role they played in divisive ethnic politics. Nuns and priests were slaughtering civilians in the wells of the Rwandan Churches. The oppression and the persecution of the Afro-Americans were done with the blessings of the Churches quoting the Bible. And the Churchmen always followed the imperial flag that colonized Afro-Asian nations, justifying the need to civilize the natives. When the Portuguese set out to destroy the Hindu kovils in Jaffna it was led by Catholic priests carrying Christian flags.
Prabhakaran, aided and abetted by the Churchmen, belongs to the long line of fascist tyrants in “the most murderous century” who had no qualms in causing “megadeaths” of his own people. And for a Bishop to anoint him as “humane”, knowing his record, was unacceptable. I wasn’t surprised that Bishop Fernando, like the others in his confraternity, had joined the mendacious Christian bandwagon that was never backward in coming forward to give their blessings to political evils of the day. He said he had shared some biscuits and sipped Orange Barley (a local fizzy drink) with “humane” Prabhakaran. Along with his political side-kicks Charlie Abeyesekera and Uyangoda he was making a pathetic attempt to give a shine to the bloody image of Prabhakaran. Uyangoda, – the JVP fascist who set out to capture Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike dead or alive — was pleased as punch at the press conference, imagining that he too had made a great contribution to the nation by sipping Orange Barley with “humane” Prabhakaran in the Vanni. Uyangoda failed to install the Sinhala fascist Wijeweera as the dictator of the nation. His next best bet was to install a Tamil fascist as a substitute for the Sinhala tyrant.
All three posed as holier-than-thou intellectuals preaching divine solutions to the earthly problems. But their moral perversions and blatant lies helped only to boost and perpetuate the subhuman force of the day by distorting the political realities faced by the nation. The Churches stand condemned for refusing to recognise evil staring in their faces. That was not all. They went further to bless Tamil evil as the source of salvation. It was pretty obvious that Churchianity had taken over Christianity. Their hypocrisy makes you understand comprehensively and empathetically why angry Jesus took the whip and lashed the priests who were using the sacred premises of God as a market place for greed and venality. All what I could think of was lines 23: 33 of Mathew : “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”
Jesus stood for the power and glory of the Supreme Force in Creation. But the Tamil and pro-Tamil preachers stood for the power and glory of a tin pot Pol Pot. Tragically, the Tamil Churches in particular fell into the hands of a bunch of racist extremists dressed in white cassocks. Rev. S. J. Emmanuel has proclaimed that he is a Tamil first and the Christian second. He and his gang were exploiting the Christian pulpits / platforms to concoct a theology for Tamils ONLY. Christianity was reduced to absurdity with some clerics daring to concoct a theology exclusively for the Tamils. Christianity lost its universality and credibility when Tamil Churchmen defined God as a Deity existing exclusively to serve the separatist politics of the Jaffna Tamils. The Churches descended into the depths of moral depravity when they sided with the politics of Prabhakaran.
Theologically, it went to the dogs when the Northern wing of the Church pronounced that God belonged ONLY to the Tamils and not to the Sinhalese Christians. Not satisfied with claiming the exclusive ownership of God another branch of the Church claimed that the Mother of God, Holy Mary, also belong to the Tamils exclusively. When the misguided acolytes of Bishop Rayappu Joseph, the Bishop of Mannar, grabbed the Holy image at Madhu and ran into Prabhakaran’s territory, the Church made a mockery of all the sacred images, rituals and tenets of Christianity.
When Bishop Rayappu gave his silent nod to hijack the image of Holy Mary he was openly declaring his hand for Prabhakaran. His nominal excuse for running away with the Holy image to Prabhakaran’s territory was to protect it from being damaged by the firing of the advancing Security Forces. That’s another unholy lie. Pictures of the Madhu Church taken after the war revealed that it was hardly affected by the war. The hidden agenda of Bishop Rayappu was to show his commitment to Prabhakaran and not to Holy Mary or the Catholic Church. It was his way of showering Christian blessings on the Tamil Pol Pot. But it backfired. As one Tamil journalist (I think it’s D. B. S. Jeyaraj) said the decline of Prabhakaran began with this sacrilegious act of Bishop Rayappu. The advancing Security Forces, moving up along the Western coast, going past Madhu, never stopped until they trapped Prabhakaran in Nandikdal.
Apart from their futile attempts to hijack God and Holy Mary the Catholic Churchmen committed the heinous crimes of handing over school-going girls, placed in their care by the Tamil parents, to the LTTE. Tamil parents who were agonising over their children being abducted by the Tamil Boko Harams handed over some to the Vallayar Madam Church believing that they would be protected under the roof of the Church. In the morning when they went to collect their children they found that the priests had rung the LTTE and asked them to come and collect the girls. Except for Fr. James Pathinathar, who tried to prevent the abduction of the girls by the LTTE, the others were happy to make their contribution to the LTTE. And the Church was silent like the way the Pope was silent when Hitler was slaughtering the Jews.
The Catholic Church in particular has a history of aligning itself with fascist regimes. So it was not surprising to find Catholic Emmanuel and Bishop Rayappu jumping with both feet into the fascist bandwagon of Prabhakaran. The Jaffna Vicar, Rev. Emmanuel and later Bishop Jebanesan struggled to concoct theories to make-believe that was God on the side of Prabhakaran. And the Bishop of Mannar, quite arrogantly, tried to drag Holy Mary physically into Prabhakaran’s camp. Both failed. Despite the strenuous attempts of the Churchmen neither God nor Holy Mary showed any signs of intervening on behalf of Prabhakaran.
Politicising Christianity has only brought disrepute to the Church. Besides, the attempt of the Tamil Churchmen to hijack both God and Holy Mary to serve Prabhakaran reflects the arrogance of Tamil clerics who assume that they have a direct line to God to make things happen their way. It is symptomatic of the vanity and the bogus sense of superiority of the Sri Lankan Tamils. But history has proved that both God and Holy Mary have been on the side of democratic forces that restored freedom liberty and dignity to the Tamils which they never had either under the caste fascism of the Vellahlas or under the political fascism of Prabhakaran.
(To be continued)