Church leaders in Sri Lanka are making a major contribution to efforts to improve understanding between the island nation's two divided communities, the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and the Tamil minority which is predominantly Hindu.

With the approval of the government, church leaders recently led a group of two dozen religious officials—including 18 Buddhist monks—to what are called "uncleared areas" under the control of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, better known as Tamil Tigers). On February 18 the group then held secret talks with senior LTTE leaders at a Catholic center, the Madhu Church, in the diocese of Mannar in Northern Sri Lanka.

The minority Tamil population, comprising less than 20 percent of the total population of 19 million, is concentrated in eastern and northern parts of the island. The Sinhala-speaking Buddhist majority occupies the southern part of the island.

Since 1983 more than 65,000 people have been killed in the bloody conflict between Tamil militants and the Sri Lankan army for the control of the Tamil areas—large parts of which remain under LTTE control.

"We will do all that we can to facilitate peace. So long as our efforts would lead to peace, we will be happy," said the Anglican Church's Bishop Kenneth Fernando of Colombo.

An active member of the Inter-Religious Alliance for National Unity (IRANU) that organized the "peace pilgrimage," Bishop Fernando was speaking to ENI after some Sri Lankan media organizations dubbed the church officials as "political bishops."

"As far as I am concerned, the single-point agenda for the churches is to facilitate peace in our motherland," said the bishop, who was forced to withdraw from the peace pilgrimage at the last moment because of health problems. ...

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