Sri Lankan, T.N. fishermen bury differences, attend annual feast at St. Antony’s Church

Despite rising tempers in Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka, the annual feast of revered St. Antony’s Church at Katchatheevu, the uninhabited island in the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay, on Sunday was well attended by fishermen of both sides.

The number of fishermen flocking to the event since 2010 has been growing.

Rev. Bishop Dr. Thomas Sovuntharanayagam conducted the mass.

Despite the obvious rancour, fishermen from both sides interacted with one another at the church. They prayed together for a better catch, a better tomorrow.

“It is a very good thing,” said Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India Prasad Kariyawasam. “The festival went off very well and there was huge participation from both sides,” he added over the phone from New Delhi.

It was also possibly for the first time that a High Commissioner of India visited Katchatheevu. “The Sri Lankan side had made very good arrangements; 2814 Indian devotees came to the island in 94 boats,” Indian High Commissioner Ashok K. Kantha told The Hindu.

Mr. Kantha said he interacted with priests, nuns and pilgrims from India. They conveyed to him their gratitude for organising the traditional annual pilgrimage which has been observed since 1905. Since 1974, the observance ceased, for political reasons.

Later, after the Tamil Tigers took control of the northern seas, an organised festival could not be held.

Patron saint of sea-farers

The annual feast is held in honour of the patron saint of sea-farers, St. Antony.

Sri Lankan Minister Douglas Devananda, who had threatened to take 5000 fishermen into the sea and prevent Indian fishermen from crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line, has suspended his threat for the time being.

While this was attributed to the presence of Mr. Kantha at the festival, and later at Jaffna, it is learnt that the festival itself had helped cool tempers on both sides.