SLN revives Kachchatheevu St. Anthony’s church feast

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By 2017-03-21

BY METHMALIE DISSANAYAKE

The night was bathed in the glow of the moonlight as its radiant beams clothed in dust of a golden hue danced down on the shimmering waters of the ocean. The gentle lapping of the ripples in the water as it came into contact with the naval vessel was as the lilting rhythm of soul soothing music to ones ears. Thus, it was in this atmosphere that we were introduced to the workings of the radar system as a sailor patiently explained it to us on board.

Pointing to the screen, he said "This is the area where the Indian fishermen enter into the Sri Lankan maritime border. We can locate them, the moment they make that move."

"We also use the night vision telescope to monitor the area around us. You can see it by yourself."
He courteously helped us up a narrow metal ladder which led to the upper deck of the ship. There another three sailors were monitoring the area. They were sharp eyed and ostensive as if the ocean was a part of them. One of them, allowing me to look through his telescope described the way it was used.

"You can see to a distance of 6 km with this, even when in the dark," he explained.
Engrossed in the explanations we suddenly found that the moon had now begun to dip into the ocean gradually getting lapped up by the waves. While on the opposite side the sun was making its glorious appearance piercing its way through the thick clouds that reflected its glow in bright red and yellow. This eye-catching beauty would cause one to catch their breath for a second. The warmness of the very first rays of the morning sun gave an almost comfortable tickling sensation to your skin. No wonder these sailors loved the ocean.

We had been sailing over three hours through it all and the salty breeze gave us a saline coat by the end of it.
From two kilometres out across the ocean, our destination loomed into sight. Then the sailors guided us to step out into a boat to continue the rest of the way.

Unlike the ship, the boat from time to time tossed and swung violently. It was fearful. However, the chattering and smiles of the sailors assured us that it would all be fine and there was nothing to worry about.

Kachchatheevu
In front of the newly renovated small church, the beach was divided into two sections. Sri Lankans were to one section, while the other section was for the Indians. However, there were only Sri Lankans on that day. No Indians visited due to a dispute between them and the Sri Lanka Navy.

The Sri Lankan devotees, who came from the North, and some as far away as Mannar and even Negombo seemed like busy bees. Some of them were bathing in the sea which was glistening with morning rays of the golden sun. They were laughing and chatting with people whom they meet with once a year.

Ceylon Today spoke with a few devotees. All of them said that they were highly disappointed about the Indians absence.
"It's once a year that we get a chance to refresh our relationships with them. For all these years, despite politics and other disputes they used to attend this feast. But this time they have decided to boycott it. They really should have come," a young woman said.

The feast
It began at 7:30 a.m. amidst prayers and psalms, the devotees asked for the blessings of St. Anthony, the saint with whom the fisheries community has an intimate bond. Both Tamils and Sinhalese devotees were on their knees, offering their sincere gratitude for the protection given by the saint. They sang together for his name.
The feast came to the end at about 9:30 a.m. After the event the priests along with the Navy Commander and several Civil Service officials planted trees to commemorate the moment.

According to the Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne approximately 6,600 Sri Lankan devotees attended the feast. The Navy had expected at least 500 boats to come to the shores with Indian devotees even at the last moment, he added.
Sri Lanka Navy
The Naval officers, including the commander were busy catering to the devotees requirements. They provided first aid, food and water to everyone who attended the feast, despite the heat of the burning sun. No matter how tired they were, every one of them had satisfied smiles on their faces.

Of course they should be happy. It was they after all, who renovated the church. It was they who spent more than Rs 70 million and shed sweat and toil for the 2,000 square foot sized island.

"It is such a disappointment that Indian devotees did not turn up. But we are happy because people from several areas attended the feast. Therefore, the event was highly successful," Vice Admiral Wijegunaratne said.
The Navy Commander, who had picked a fight with a provincial journalist a few months ago, did not forget to share a light moment with the journalists who were there to cover the event.
Laughing loudly, he said, "I do not know what exactly happened that day. That was the first time I got angry like that after the war. But I am really sorry for what happened that day."

The devotees were still engrossed in the feast and the company of each other. However, we had a long journey back to Colombo. So bidding our farewells to the island and the people we got back onto the boat. The deep green ocean, with its magnificent waves beckoned us into its embrace once more.

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