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Tsunami aid builds bridges for Sri Lankan Christians, Buddhists

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File photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT International

Two girls care for their sleeping sister in a Buddhist temple in Galle, Sri Lanka.
Jan. 4, 2006

By Anto Akkara*

GALLE, Sri Lanka (ENI) ? One year after Sri Lanka was struck by a devastating tsunami that wreaked destruction throughout south and southeast Asia, churches in the island nation say their relief work has promoted better relations with the country?s Buddhist majority.

?It (the tsunami) has given us an opportunity to work closely with the Buddhist people and win their confidence,? said the Rev. Lesley Weerasinghe, a Methodist pastor in the southern port city of Galle, where more than 4,000 people were killed by the giant waves.

Initially, Weerasinghe recalled, local Buddhists staged demonstrations when he tried to start building houses for Buddhist tsunami survivors at a plot purchased by the church at
Pujadigama village.

?They thought we were going to build a church in their village,? the pastor said. ?But when they realized that we were building houses for Buddhists, they started supporting us.?

Buddhists had been the major beneficiaries of Methodist relief, including houses, items such as boats and financial assistance to restart business destroyed in Galle, he noted.

?Before the tsunami, many Buddhists thought that Christians were trying to convert the Buddhists by our social service. But our tsunami relief work has started removing that fear,? Weerasinghe said.

Buddhists account for almost 70 percent of Sri Lanka?s 20 million people, while Christians tally just over 6 percent. The Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami claimed more than 35,000 lives and displaced nearly 1 million people in Sri Lanka alone.

The Rev. Kingsley Perera, chairperson of Sri Lanka?s National Christian Council and president of the Baptist Council of Sri Lanka, told Ecumenical News International that the tsunami relief work has ?certainly led to better harmony and understanding? with Buddhists.

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Photo by Jan-Åke Thorell, ACT International

A destroyed house is one of many signs of the tsunami along the main highway out of Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo.
When local Buddhists opposed construction of houses for tsunami victims by the Baptist church in Paraliya village, 70 kilometers south of the capital Colombo, church workers approached the chief Buddhist monk of the area, Perera noted.

?The monk went from house to house explaining our work to the people and got their consent for our work,? he said.

?The tsunami has brought the people and the religious leaders together,? said the venerable Hedigalle Wimalasara, a leader of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, a political party formed by Buddhist monks.

Speaking to Ecumenical News International, Wimalasara noted that when the tsunami struck, more than 1,500 families, including Christians and Muslims, took shelter in his monastery 65 kilometers south of Colombo. The Buddhist monk said, ?We are coming closer day by day.?

*This story was distributed by Ecumenical News International.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or


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