NEW DELHI (CNS) — Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka, expressed “shock and distress” in accusing the military of storming a Catholic church and firing on residents who had sought refuge there.
The cardinal condemned the army’s action in a strongly worded statement read Aug. 7 during the funeral for one of three people who died in the Aug. 1 incident at St. Anthony Parish in Weliweriya, a village just outside the capital.
Authorities said more than 50 people also were injured during the assault, which occurred as soldiers broke up a demonstration by villagers protesting a factory polluting a local water source.
“It was sacrilege for anyone to enter such sacred precincts with arms in their hands and to behave in a violent manner there,” Cardinal Ranjith said at the funeral of Ravishan Perera, 18, a student at St. Peter’s College in Colombo who died after being shot in the head.
“It is always necessary that we preserve this sanctity of sacred premises of any religion and respect the people who enter such premises seeking protection,” he said.
Cardinal Ranjith also demanded that the “those found guilty (should) be punished without consideration of rank or status.”
During the protest, residents blocked a road and demanded permanent closure of a factory that they said was contaminating ground water with chemical waste.
According to reports, army troops were called to assist the police in dispersing the protesters who refused to end the blockade.
Reiterating that an attack on unarmed civilians was “unacceptable under any circumstances,” Cardinal Ranjith said “we do not accept using one’s power in a repressive manner to suppress protests, even if they get out of control.”
“When the army started attacking and shooting at people, crowds of people rushed to the church for safety. People hid themselves in the church premises and some went to take refuge in the convent as well,” the cardinal said, quoting Father Lakpriya Nonis, the parish priest.
A human rights leader also voiced outrage over the army’s actions.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable to shoot at people asking for clean drinking water, even more unacceptable to attack at people seeking shelter in a church,” Ruki Fernando, a Catholic human rights activists told Catholic News Service Aug. 8.