The Death Of A Great Sri Lankan Tamil Bishop – Rayappu Joseph

The Most Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph of Mannar, Sri Lanka, has died. He was an outstanding soul, the best that Mannar has had.

Born in Delft (an island off Jaffna) in 1940, ordained in 1965 and the of Mannar in 1992.

When the Sri Lankan armed force decided to bomb Mannar in 1999, he urged that civilians be spared. They were not spared. As scores of men, women and children were slaughtered he lodged a strong protest and went to care for the wounded and wipe the tears of those who survived. That was unacceptable to the Sri Lankan government. Anyone who did any humanitarian work to help suffering Tamils was a ‘terrorist’ and, if Tamil, a Tamil Tiger Terrorist – as Bishop Rayappu was called.

With the bombing getting closer to the Madhu Church with its priceless Lady of Madhu statue, some people, I am told they were Tamil Tiger some of whom were Christians, rescued this treasure. They returned it to the church when this outrage was over. Had it not been for them, this holy of holy treasure would have been reduced to dust as was the Jaffna Library in 1981.

On 28 November 1999, the Madhu church was bombed. The Church was extensively damaged and some 40 civilians killed and another 60 injured. Bishop Rayappu raised a voice of protest.

Then came the end of the war, 19 May 2009. Bishop Rayappu and many others waited for the return to normalcy. With nothing but a seriously flawed “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) appointed by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government which Human Rights Watch called a ‘fundamentally flawed commission’, Bishop Rayappu and fellow clergy decided to appear before the Commission.

Their Submission to the LLRC is the only document ever published that gives the actual number unaccounted for – a staggering 146,679.

In February 2012, the US State Department sent two officials to Sri Lanka to inform the Mahinda Rajapaksa government that the US intended to submit a Resolution on Sri Lanka to the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council. Bishop Rayappu and other non-politicians immediately sent a letter to them. It is a concise and precise letter, written with a genuine concern for the Tamil  people. It is on the net.

On 1st March 2012, 31 Christian clergy headed by Bishop Rayappu, made a Submission to the UN Human Rights Council. Conspicuously absent were the names of the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, and of even greater concern, the names of the Catholic Bishops of Jaffna and of Trincomalee-Batticaloa. They clearly feel that there is no problem, and that all is well with their flock. If so, they are either out of touch with reality or have an agenda that is highly questionable. They might not have the courage to speak out. One way or the other it is simply not acceptable.

In striking contrast to the Tamil Bishops in the North-East and the Archbishop of Colombo, who are unable to support an outstanding Tamil bishop in the North-West, support for him commendably came from my community, the Sinhalese, in the South.

Headed by the fine upstanding Sinhalese bishop, Kumara Illangasinghe (Anglican Bishop Emeritus, Kurunegala), Christian clergy, nuns and laity from the south wrote to the UNHRC in support of the letter by northern clergy.

12 March 2012

We the undersigned, endorse the concerns and calls made in the letter of 1st March 2012 to the President and Members of the UN Human Rights Council by 31 Catholic clergy from northern Sri Lanka, including the Bishop of Mannar.

We also express out grave concerns about intimidation and discrediting of the signatories of the initial letter and in particular the Bishop of Mannar…..accusing the Bishop of aspiring to become Cardinal of Tamil Eelam and that he should be arrested and prosecuted.

Signed Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe and others

63 people signed it, 25 priests, 7 nuns and 31 civilians

I can go on but there will not be the time to present it at Bishop Rayappu’s funeral. The full 61 page booklet is available with me. All you need to do is to send me an email ( and I will send a pdf version by email and you can print it.

By Brian Senewiratne


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