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Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph has declared that the sacred Madhu statue cannot be returned to the original place in the newly liberated area ahead of the annual feast next month.

Two months after the Madhu Shrine area in Mannar was liberated by the security forces, Bishop Joseph says he has still not got clearance from the security forces to visit the area and says it is time for the devotees to be allowed back into their Church.

“I have sought permission from the security forces to go there, stay there and clean up the area. Unless both parties declare a no war zone around the area, I will be unable to bring the Madhu Statue of Our Lady to the church by August 15 – the day of the feast,” the Bishop said.

He said the Army has given an assurance that the forces would keep two and a half kilometres away from the Madhu shrine but he has so far had no such assurance from the LTTE but is waiting to meet and talk to the Tigers soon after he is granted an appointment by them,” he said.

The Bishop has been informed by the Army that there is no military presence inside the Church compound. Nearly 40,000 people in the Madhu area have been displaced and they have been pushed further into the LTTE-controlled area.

“Only after the Army cleared the Madhu area my Vicar General Father Victor Soosai visited there once and he could only spend very little time. Since then nobody was allowed to enter the area. We have to do a lot of work before celebrating the Feast of Our Lady. The forces have taken over the Madhu shrine area and now they have to hand it over to us,” the Bishop said.

He added that he would be meeting with the Wanni security forces commander next week to put forward the suggestions of the Church. “Meanwhile the normal Mass will be held on August 15 to mark Our Lady’s feast at St. Xavier’s Church at Palampiddi where the statue is now. Also we are celebrating the feast in all the parishes in the Mannar diocese. . Only one of the seven parishes are functioning in Madhu currently,” he said.

(Sunday Times)

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