New St. Anthony’s Church at Kachchathivu — Sri Lanka Navy’s Christmas Gift to the Nation
by Xavier Croos
( December 25, 2016, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Sri Lanka Navy gifted the newly constructed St. Anthony’s Church two days prior to Christmas celebrations at the Kachchathivu Island to the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna on Friday (23 December).
The Bishop of Jaffna His Lordship, Rt. Revd. Dr. Justin Bernard Gnanapragasam, Governor Northern Province Reginald Cooray, Commander of the Navy Vice Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, Navy’s Northern Commander Rear Admiral Piyal De Silva, the Government Agent , Indian Consular General in Jaffna, priests from Jaffna Diocese and Tamil Nadu, devotees from the Delft Island as well as from Tamil Nadu were present at the consecration ceremony.
The Navy undertook the task of constructing this new church following a request made by the Jaffna Bishop during the last Kachchativu feats which was attended by well over 7000 clergy and devotees from both Sri Lanka and India. Since the day this request was made by the Bishop, Tamil Nadu politicians led by late Chief Minister opposed the new construction stating that the much talked about Kachchativu Island is India’s property.
Despite repeated opposition by Tamil Nadu politicians, the Navy completed the construction of the new church in a record breaking time of 6 months at a total cost of Rs. 7.7 million. Even though the church was originally planned to handover on 07th December, the naval leadership took a wise decision to postpone the event following the death of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.
The Jaffna Bishop, government officials, clergy and devotees were taken by revelation when they saw the newly constructed St. Anthony’s Church. The Bishop of Jaffna and many others present during the consecration ceremony named this church as the most colourful church in the entire Jaffna Diocese. Those who had the opportunity to participate at the event will fully agree to this fact and I must especially mention here of the construction talents the naval architectures have in their hand.
Even though many are unaware, the six steel columns used in the construction of the new church was taken from the stage built by the Navy for the Holy Mass and the Canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz held under the patronage of His Holiness Pope Francis at the Galle Face Green on 14th January last year.
It is indeed interesting to trace back some of the historic details about this much talked about island. As we all know, Kachchativu Island became one of the pet topics of leading Tamil Nadu politicians including the late Chief Minister. The Kachchativu Island issue was well cleared with the involvement of some of our very seasoned Government officials’ way back in the 70s.
The book titled “Kachchativu: And the Maritime Boundary of Sri Lanka”, written by Mr. WT Jayasinghe, former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs and later Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1972-1989, fully explains the efforts taken at that time to solve the Kachchativu issue. In page 18 of the referred book states, ‘The Portuguese had administered Kachchativu as part of Jaffna Peninsula and Sri Lanka has been exercising sovereignty and jurisdiction over Kachchativu Island and its adjacent waters without interruption’.
To prove that Kachchativu belong to Sri Lanka, let me quote from WT Jayasinghe’s book the following few points;
-‘No country had disputed Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over Kachchativu till the Madras officials at a conference held in Colombo in October 1921 staked a claim by India to the island’. (page 21)
-in 1876 the Survey officers of India treated the island (Kachchtivu) as part of Ceylon. In a letter dated 23 April 1876, Major B.R. Branfill who was in charge of the Madras Survey Party wrote “….four stations built by me on the islands belonging to Ceylon. Two stations were in Delft and two in Kachchtivu”.
-The Triangulation report in India and Adjacent countries report of 1915, stated that Kachchativu Island belongs to the Jaffna Taluk in the Northern Province of Ceylon”.
However, it is unfortunate to see that the politicians still holds on to an issue that was resolved many years back through the 1974 and 1976 agreements.
I am hopeful that the Navy’s Christmas gift to the Nation, the newly Constructed St. Anthony’s Church at Kachchativu Island will bring a new hope for improved relations with Tamil Nadu in future.
The Jaffna Bishop and the Governor very rightly stated that this church will be an important symbol of religious reconciliation in our country.
The nation owes a big gratitude to the Sri Lanka Navy for constructing this sacred church and gifting to the Catholic community of the entire country.