Christian Buddhist Tension On The Rise

By Raisa Wickrematunge

Apart from the alarming wave of anti Muslim sentiment that has been spreading across Sri Lanka, attacks on churches are now on the increase. Most recently, on June 26, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses were confronted by Buddhist group Ravana Balaya, and told that they would be dealt with severely in future. They later held a press conference about the tussle.  Members of the Ravana Balaya have previously spoken to The Sunday Leader about their belief that groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses should spread their message solely to Christian people.

According to a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses Sri Lanka, a group “who appeared to be Buddhist ‘extremists’ entered the church without permission.” The group was accompanied by a TV camera crew and then began to speak rudely to one of the members of the Church, for no apparent reason. The Buddhist group had then apparently called upon the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the police to stop their activity, saying if the authorities did not step in, they would deal with the group ‘with severity.’

“This particular place of worship has been used peacefully for over 10 years and is well known and recognized in the community. We feel this is a clear violation of our freedom of worship that is guaranteed by the constitution of Sri Lanka,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses said. The group added that they had an international presence, and were modest constructions built by volunteers to fit in to the surrounding neighbourhood.

Ven. Itthekande Saddhatissa Thero of the Ravana Balaya said that the Jehovah’s Witnesses group had been visiting villages in Rajagiriya promising to develop them, but also asking residents not to go to the Churches they traditionally visited. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had said that only they were the true followers of the Bible, Saddhatissa Thero claimed. He added that he stood against such statements and it was for this reason that the group had got involved in the situation.

This was not the only clash recorded between Buddhist groups and Christians. Last Thursday (June 20) a group including two monks who were said to be Bodu Bala Sena supporters removed a moonstone from a church in the Maggona area in Kalutara.
The priests had then taken the moonstone away to a temple. Following strong protests from residents, and the intervention of police, the moonstone was eventually returned to the church.

Executive Committee member of the Bodu Bala Sena, Dilanthe Withanage said that the group had not explicitly organised the event. “We have certain events that the members officially attend, and this was not one of them,” he said.

However, he conceded, it was possible that supporters of the Bodu Bala Sena had been involved in the incident. He added that according to information received by him the monks had gone to the church in question and informed them that the moonstone was a cultural symbol which should not be displayed in a church. It was after this that they had removed the moonstone and poured cement on the area, Withanage said. However the matter had been resolved and the monks had had a discussion with the priest of the church, Withanage said.

Meanwhile, Father Jude, the parish priest of the church in question said that he had been instructed by the Catholic Bishops Conference not to comment on the incident for the time being in light of the sensitivity of the situation. It was also reported that there was a similar incident at St. Philip Neri’s church in Katuwawala last Friday (June 21), with threats to remove a moonstone there.

Father Lawrence Ramanayake of St. Phillip Neri’s church said that though there had indeed been such rumours, nothing had come of it. “This church has been built according to Sinhalese culture, which includes a 47 year old sandakada pahana (moonstone),” Father Ramanayake said. Rumours had fast spread that this church too would come under attack, and panicked residents had been on the alert. However, the police had reassured the people of the area that they would not allow any incidents to occur, Father Ramanayake said.

Speaking further, the priest said the area where the church was built was mostly Catholic, and so attempting to remove the moonstone would be a delicate and sensitive issue. “If people try to remove it, there will be bloodshed,” Father Ramanayake said. However, he added, there had been no problem up until now, despite the rumours. “The Cardinal has asked us to remain calm and follow the law, and settle this matter peacefully,” the parish priest added.

Reports last week said that following the incident in Maggona, members of the Sinhala Ravaya had also marched past the church, making threats and causing a tense situation. However Chairman of the Sinhala Ravaya, Ven. Akmeemana Thero denied the allegations saying it was members of the Hela Urumaya group who were responsible.

Apart from these incidents, which all took place over a span of two weeks, there have been attacks on pastor Pradeep Kumara’s house in Weeraketiya, the first being led by Ven. Omalpe Thero in 2012, with a later attack being spearheaded by members of Sinhala Ravaya. The latter group threatened the pastor’s wife and children, as well as causing damage to his property, forcing the pastor to move away from his home town temporarily until the hue and cry died down.
More recently sacred statues from St. Francis Xavier’s Church, including one which was hundreds of years old, were smashed by residents in Angulana. One week after the incident, the church remained shut up, although the parish priest and residents said the matter had been resolved.

In Mulleriyawa, members of the Ravana Balaya accosted a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, claiming members of a particular village had asked for their intervention from the group. The Ravana Balaya handed them over to the Mulleriyawa police.
In most of the above cases, matters have been resolved peacefully, with the Bishops calling for calm and stressing on the need for peaceful negotiation. Yet still, the incidents continue without a break, with the incident in Rajagiriya being the latest to crop up.

It would seem that despite all of the Archbishop’s House’s efforts to call for calm and peaceful negotiation, these clashes will keep occurring, as long as the religious groups who are stirring up tensions are allowed to continue unchecked.

1 Comment for “Christian Buddhist Tension On The Rise”

  1. Malin

    We should not allow Sri Lanka to become another South Korea. South Korea which had a Buddhist population of 90% over two decades has now diminished to 35% with expansion of Born again Christians and similar cults lavishly financed by the Americans.

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