Adversity brings religions closer together in Sri Lanka

June 29, 2003

Devastating floods, perhaps the worst natural catastrophe in Sri Lanka since 1947, have brought together the nation's religious communities.

Up to 300 people are dead after flash-floods and landslides in the south were followed by torrential monsoon rains in mid-May. More than 150,000 families were homeless. 'Some of them have nothing left. They have lost everything, including their houses and lands,' said the Rev. Ebenezer Joseph, general secretary of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka and head of the council's relief and rehabilitation programs.

The council has been aiding more than 2,000 families in the areas most seriously affected, providing rations of rice, sugar and flour, as well as temporary shelter. Joseph said that the aid was especially appreciated by Buddhist monks, some of whom had been suspicious of Christian charity. Christians are a small minority in the country, with only eight percent in a population of almost 20 million. Buddhists comprise almost 70 percent.

Though the region has seen what Joseph described as 'unpleasant' incidents where evangelical groups have distributed ration kits to Buddhists complete with prayer cards and Bibles, mainstream church bodies have helped rebuild Buddhist religious schools. 'On such occasions, we need to work together,' said one monk at a monastery near Deniyaya. He encouraged cooperation between Buddhists and Christians in collecting relief supplies. 'This is a great opportunity to come together and throw our differences away.'