The faithful came in their hundreds across the Indian Ocean to worship at St. Anthony’s Church on the island of Kachchativu. With the fall out from the war that once gripped the country, a thing of the past, the full Mass was conducted at the sacred site after a lapse of 28 long years.
Indian worshippers mingled with Sri Lankan Catholic devotees, as the voice of the Vicar General of Jaffna Justin Gnanaprakasham’s rose in prayer. In attendance at the historic event was also a group of media personnel taken from Colombo by the Sri Lanka Navy. Lankadeepa photographer Romesh Danuskha Silva was among those who made the memorable journey which began early Saturday (March 19) when they left Navy Headquarters in Colombo, by bus. Both local and foreign journalists were on board for the long journey which first took them to the Navy Camp at Kankesanturai, where they spent the night.
Following morning, the journalists and the photographers boarded a gunboat at 3.45 am for the three-and-a-half-hour long journey to Kachchativu island. As the sun rose over the Indian Ocean, the gunboat dropped anchor within sight of the island, and from here the media team boarded water jets which took them to the shores of Kachchativu.
Hundreds of Indian devotees were already on the island by then. They had come by boat, making the hour-long journey to invoke the blessings of St. Anthony. Many members of the clergy too joined the crowds to pray at this church. A Sri Lankan Immigration and Emigration office was opened close to the shore, to stamp the temporary travel document issued to the Indians to enter Sri Lankan territory.
Also open close by was an office of the Bank of Ceylon, where Indian devotees could exchange their currency for Sri Lankan Rupees. For every 100 Indian rupees, they got 230 Sri Lankan rupees. On arrival, they were given a bag of refreshments which included buns, a packet of milk and bottled water. Small stalls were set up selling peanuts, soft drinks and other items by traders from the north. The Indians were keen to buy Sri Lankan soap to take back with them.
Also present at the Mass was the Navy’s Northern Commander Rear Adm. Sarath Weerasekera, Security Forces Commander (North) Maj. Gen. Mahinda Hathurusinghe and Government Agent Jaffna, Imelda Sukumar. The service began around 7.30 and lasted close to two hours.
The Navy had arranged to host 15,000 devotees, and after the service, they were treated to a feast which included kiribath, lunu miris, plantains and a variety of food items, as well as plenty of drinking water. Having eaten and rested for few hours, the Indian devotees bid farewell to their Lankan friends and left for home, while the others left for the Sri Lankan mainland.
The media personnel too boarded the boat back to KKS, and after lunch, left for the journey back to Colombo. Though tired, many recounted the experience as a memorable and well organized tour which gave them the opportunity to witness another of the positive changes taking place since the end of hostilities in the country nearly two years ago.