Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 17, 2005
Tsunami affects local clergy
Formerly from Sri Lanka, priests find out their relatives are safe
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Father Vernon Regis received a special Christmas gift recently - an answered prayer that his sister was alive.
Originally from Sri Lanka, Regis was unable to get word of his sister's whereabouts after he heard reports that her oceanside residence was washed away by the devastating Boxing Day tsunami.
He repeatedly tried calling on the telephone, but was unable to get through.
Home washed away
"She lived in a home with others about 400 metres from the shore, and it is gone," Regis said. "She lives about 30 km from Colombo (capital). But she went away for Christmas. My stepbrothers live in my ancestral home on the beach a few kilometres away. Their homes flooded but they managed to get to a church on a hilltop. They are safe."
Regis is one of two archdiocesan priests - Father Brian Jayawardhana is the other - who come from Sri Lanka where at least 30,000 people died in the tsunami caused by a massive earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. All told, more than 160,000 people in a dozen countries died from the tsunami.
Regis, who is retired but assists at St. Agnes Parish, was told of the tragedy shortly before Sunday Mass. He did not see any television coverage or hear radio reports until he got home in the evening.
That was when he had time to fathom the enormity of the destruction.
"The important thing about my sister is that she is a woman of faith. I said, 'Lord, whatever happens, so be it.' But I was very concerned until I got in touch with my stepsister. She managed to track her down through some friends who spoke to me (Jan. 4).
"It was a great relief," he said.
Jayawardhana came to Canada from Matara, Sri Lanka, 28 years ago. He is currently a counsellor with Catholic Social Services.
He spoke at an interfaith prayer vigil Jan. 2 at the Royal Alexandra Hospital's community centre. Organized by the Sri Lanka Canada Friendship Association, the service included blessings from Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim faiths.
"It is hard to imagine what exactly is happening from here," Jayawardhana said in an interview. "I feel a little bit helpless."
He also placed numerous phone calls seeking information about family members. He eventually learned none had died.
"I was able to get only one call through. I had 64 first cousins and most of them are still in Sri Lanka. One of my relatives was trapped in a hotel about 800 metres from the beach. The waves came that far inland, damaging the main floor. They were reluctant to move because they are used to seeing big waves approach that do not do any damage," he said.
"But for some reason, the hotel staff asked people to come inside and go to higher floors. They were without power, but they were safe."
Jayawardhana sees this as a moment when the world is coming together and reaching out to one another in a manner that it has never done before. He prayed there is hope for a better world of peace and harmony.
"The statue was found unharmed: For the people there, the miracle goes on."
- Fr. Brian Jayawardhana
Jayawardhana attended an adjoining school and church in Matara from 1943-46 that were significantly damaged by the tsunami. Many years ago, a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus washed ashore. The locals thought it was a miracle. They erected the statue on the site and built the church around it, making it a place of pilgrimage.
Following the recent disaster, the statue disappeared until villagers found it in a pile of rubble. Jesus was still wearing a gold crown. "The statue was found unharmed: For the people there, the miracle goes on."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.