1 Year Later, Sri Lankan Priest Still Missing

Jaffna Residents Pray for Return to Peace

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, AUG. 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- It's been a year since a young Catholic priest and his assistant disappeared from Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, and still nothing is known of their fate.



Father Thiruchelvam Nihal Jimbrown, 34, and Wenceslaus Vimalathas, a father of five, have been missing since Aug. 20, 2006, amid warfare between security forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, AsiaNews reported.

The two were last seen on a motorcycle at a checkpoint in Allaipiddy, an area tightly controlled by the security forces.

Just prior to the first anniversary of the priest's disappearance, the apostolic nuncio to Sri Lanka, Archbishop Mario Zenari, spoke about the situation to AsiaNews.

He said: "Alas, to date, there is no trace of Father Jimbrown. On the anniversary of his disappearance and that of his companion Vimalathas, one can only entrust their fate into the hands of the Lord, and implore God to grant consolation to their relatives and to the faithful of the Diocese of Jaffna."

Many events and prayer services are being held today around Jaffna to remember the two men, including one this morning that drew about 1,000 priests, sisters and lay people at the cathedral.

Common disappearances

Sri Lanka's de facto return to civil war has led to an alarming rise in "disappearances" around the country, with more than 1,100 cases reported in the last year and half, a rate second only to Iraq, according to the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

Sources who attended the prayer meeting for the missing men told AsiaNews: "People are kidnapped or killed every day here. Our prayers today were for all of them.

"People are living in utter fear and everyone is afraid to speak out. Only the Church can do something to highlight what is happening."

On the feast of the Assumption on Wednesday, nearly 25,000 pilgrims gathered in the country's most popular Marian shrine, dedicated to Our Lady of Madhu, amid the sound of heavy shelling, to pray "that peace may soon come to Sri Lanka."