Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 17, 2005
PM 'courageous' for naming Jesus and Mary at tsunami service
Ottawa archbishop lauds Martin's story of the retrieved statues
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
At the national commemoration service for tsunami victims Jan. 8, Prime Minister Paul Martin mentioned Jesus and Mary, an act Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais described as "courageous."
In the nationally televised ceremony in an Ottawa hockey arena, Martin told a story about a statue of Mary and the Baby Jesus at Our Lady of Matara Church on Sri Lanka's south coast.
This statue, "pulled from the sea by fisherman some five centuries ago," drew the faithful from across the country, Martin said. Martin said waves hit the church just as Communion was beginning, drowning 17 people. The pastor "struggled to save the statue, but a wall of water swept it away," Martin said.
The statue had been lost twice before: once when it was "misplaced for many years," and once during a shipwreck, he said. "Three days after the tsunami, the small statue was discovered, undamaged, in a nearby garden," Martin said. "The pastor said of the likeness of Mary: 'She came from the sea. She knows how to swim.'"
Martin said he'd been thinking about this story ever since he heard it. "As a human being, as a person of faith, I'm not sure exactly what to take from this. It's heartbreaking to imagine the horror that must have been brought to that most serene of places. And yet each time I think of it I find some hope, a renewed sense true faith is unshakable, eternal."
Gervais, who represented the Christian faith at the commemoration service, described mentioning Jesus and Mary as "courageous." "I was delighted," Gervais said. "I thought it was a wonderful little story. And I thought it was nervy of him to do it."
When it was Gervais' turn to pray, however, he said he deliberately avoided mentioning Jesus or the Trinity.
"Here in Ottawa we are used to interfaith dialogue and interfaith meetings, interfaith prayers," Gervais said. "We avoid things that might be contentious at the moment out of a sense of sensitivity to the others, while they are free to mention whatever they want to mention. It's just out of a recognition that we are in an interfaith setting.
"When we mention God it also includes Jesus and the Holy Spirit. So it's always Father, Son and Holy Spirit in any case," he said.
Gervais joined religious leaders from a range of faiths, including Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Mohawk, Baha'i and Zoroastrian, who each lit candles in honour of the victims after their prayers.
The Tsunami Commemoration contrasted sharply with the 9-11 Memorial following the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
The 9-11 Memorial drew over 100,000 people to Parliament Hill three days after the attacks, but angered many because the Chretien government would not allow any public prayers, even though religious leaders were invited.
Low turn out
The tsunami ceremony drew only about 400 members of the public, in addition to 400 invited attendees including members of Parliament and other levels of government, members of the diplomatic corps, and the families of some of the victims.
The government had arranged for the Civic Centre hockey arena to hold 15,000 and printed thousands of programs. Most boxes were never opened.
Members of the public suggested a lack of publicity about the event, fear of traffic or of not getting a seat, and "tsunami burn-out" might have discouraged people from attending.
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