By Robin Gomes
A prominent Catholic Churchman in Sri Lanka is urging the faithful to rally around the government’s fight against the menace of drug abuse.
It is "our duty to support the president in an effort to protect our children from the danger of drugs,” said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, at an anti-narcotics march and rally he promoted in the capital, Colombo, on Sunday, March 31.
At the end of Sunday Mass, 3 parishes, including children studying the catechism, raised placards and banners and marched in silence and converged on Vystwyke Park in Kotahena for the rally. More than 2,000 people, including dozens of Catholics and Buddhists as well as local clergy, joined the initiative titled, “Say no to drugs.”
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wikcremasinghe were at his side on the stage in Vystwyke Park in Kotahena.
Recently, the president launched a campaign against drug trafficking, reintroducing the death penalty. "We are strengthening the laws and will go for strict punishments," the president said adding he would set a date for the resumption of execution.
If we do not act immediately, the drug threat will enter our economic system,” warned Card. Ranjith at the rally.
Sirisena said a special event is being organized on April 3 for schoolchildren and others to pledge support for the battle against illicit drugs.
Prime Minister Wikcremasinghe went further. "We need help from neighbouring countries. We cannot do this alone," he said.
Card. Ranjith requested the "president to punish the culprits who are behind this drug mafia without fear." "Drug dealers target schoolchildren and the youth, so,” he said, “we should protect our future generations."
The island nation has become a major transit point for traffickers and it suffers from widespread domestic drug addiction.
Sri Lankan authorities destroyed over 769 kilograms of narcotics on Monday and earlier in January, US$108 million worth of drugs from a single intercepted shipment was burned.
A phone hotline has been established for members of the public to report drug dealers.
Cannabis and heroin are the most widely used drugs in Sri Lanka and authorities have expressed concern that the island nation could also become a major transit point for international traffickers.
Police have arrested more than 50 people on trafficking charges since the middle of last year.
Statistics of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board show that arrests for drug crimes have soared in the past six years.
The Church and the death penalty
While supporting the fight against drug abuse and drug-related crimes, the Catholic Church teaching, however, is against the death penalty.
In August last year, Pope Francis allowed a revision in the Catechism of the Catholic Church making capital punishment inadmissible.
Earlier, the Catechism did not exclude recourse to the death penalty in “very rare, if not practically nonexistent” circumstances.
Soon after the revision in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on capital punishment, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL) issued a statement fully endorsing the Church's stand while vowing to fight the menace of drug-related crimes.
While capital punishment has not been implemented since 1976, there are about 1,300 prisoners on death row in Sri Lanka, including 48 for drug convictions.
Religious leaders, including Catholic bishops, priests, nuns and laymen, have protested Sirisena’s move to end a 43-year old moratorium on the death penalty. They have also condemned the increased use of illegal drugs among schoolchildren in Sri Lanka.
In preparation for Sunday’s event, Card. Ranjith had urged all parishes and institutions to stage silent demonstrations denouncing all drug peddlers. (Source: UNANEWS, AsiaNews)