A symbol of unity
Throughout the 30 years of the brutal terror campaign
by the LTTE, the venerated Madhu Church stood majestically in
the Mannar conflict zone. When terrorists gained control of the
area from time to time, Catholics around the world prayed for
the safety of the Church and its Our Lady of Madhu Statue. Many
devotees visited the Church even amidst the conflict. Indeed, it
was venerated by people from communities and religious groups.
The LTTE shamefully used the Church environs to launch
attacks on the Security Forces. They had constructed bunkers and
placed hundreds of landmines in the vicinity although Madhu was
designated as a demilitarized zone. Some of LTTE's activities
caused damage to the Church itself. Fortunately, the Church
administrators had conveyed the Our Lady of Madhu Statue to
Thus the liberation of the Madhu Church area by the Security
Forces was a significant milestone in the battle against
terrorism. The Forces lost no time in renovating the Church in
collaboration with the Church authorities. The landmines were
In the days before the conflict, over a million devotees
would throng the Church for the annual festival on August 15.
The day is spiritually important for Catholics, being one of the
most hallowed days celebrating the day of Assumption of the
Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. This year's feast is very
significant because it is the first time devotees will be paying
homage to the shrine after the elimination of terrorism from our
land. The Madhu Church will reaffirm its status as a sacred
symbol that unites all Sri Lankans.
With August 15 only days away, the Government is making all
efforts to ensure a smooth trip and facilities for the estimated
400,000 Madhu pilgrims including Sri Lankan expatriates. The
Uthuru Vasanthhaya (Northern Spring) Task Force in collaboration
with the Security Forces and police has made elaborate
arrangements to provide these facilities. The 12 km access road
is being renovated and the Church too is being spruced up.
All Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity or religion,
venerate Nagadeepa, Nallur Kovil and the Madhu Church, the three
main places of worship in the North. The Nallur festival has
attracted devotees from all over the world. All facilities must
be provided to pilgrims visiting these sacred sites. Other
affected places of worship in the North (and the East) must also
be renovated. They offered all Lankans a glimmer of hope during
the war and in peacetime, they will lay the foundation for amity
Wiles of vile industries
The Government envisions a country free of tobacco and
alcohol abuse by 2015. This is the aim of the laudable Mathata
Thitha (Full Stop to Tobacco and Alcohol use) program, one of
the main planks of the Mahinda Chinthana. New
anti-tobacco/alcohol laws were passed a couple of years ago to
achieve these goals enunciated in the Mahinda Chinthanaya.
These laws, aimed especially at saving the young generation
from the twin evils of tobacco and alcohol abuse, have been very
effective. The consumption of alcohol and tobacco has indeed
decreased and even the local production of cigarettes has
witnessed a decline. This is a considerable achievement,
considering that the laws have been in effect only for around
The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA), a
Government-appointed body, is doing a yeoman service in this
regard. Headed by Prof. Carlo Fonseka, a vocal opponent of
tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse, it is spearheading a drive
against these social evils along with several other Government
and Non-Governmental Organisations.
However, there are those who will flout any laws, especially
if money is involved. These are multi-billion rupee industries
and the manufacturers, fearing a loss of revenue, do resort to
various tactics to increase their customer base. One such
incident was highlighted yesterday by Prof. Fonseka himself.
NATA officials had witnessed a group distributing cigarettes
free of charge to passers-by in front of a reputed restaurant in
The authorities should close any loopholes in existing laws
which enable tobacco and alcohol companies to try new ways to
entice youth. New laws should be drafted if deemed necessary.
Those who violate the laws should be punished severely. Only
such an approach will help realize the noble goals of the
Mathata Thitha program.