Caritas Sri Lanka, the social arm of the Catholic Church has been instrumental in promoting sustained relationships through justice, peace & reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Our initiatives have focused on ensuring greater inclusion of vulnerable communities in social, political and economic life; access to quality basic services; freedom without exploitative practices; ability to voice their concerns and influence decisions that affect them, while ensuring access to information and resources to achieve self-reliance. 

In this context, Caritas Sri Lanka understanding and realizing the importance of recognizing various initiatives taken by different stakeholders in the church network for the same purpose of peace and reconciliation, organized a Virtual National Forum for Church Actors on Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka on the 8th, 9th and 10th of September 2021. The purpose of this virtual forum was to create a common platform for different stakeholders representing religious congregations and church affiliated institutions to share their experience and contribution towards the national reconciliation process and plan a common way forward to act together in addressing the issues pertaining to the same. The virtual forum organized in September was the initial (first) phase of the National Forum for Church Actors on Peace and Reconciliation.

 As an outcome of the first phase of the forum, the participants emphasized that continuation of fora as such for dialogue is of imperativeness. Hence, on the basis of identification of peace actors that work in the areas of peace and reconciliation among religious congregations, church-affiliated institutions, civil society organizations and state organizations. The second basis was to initiate progressive dialogue among the identified stakeholders, where Caritas Sri Lanka – SEDEC and the diocesan networks created the space for such interactions. The Jaffna Forum, the second phase of the National Forum for Church Actors on Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka, took place on the 31st of January and the 1st of February 2022 at the Pandatheruppu Retreat House in Jaffna, with the presence of Rt. Rev. Dr. Justin .B. Gnanapragasam, Bishop of Jaffna and Chairman of Caritas Sri Lanka, Rt. Rev. Dr. Maxwell Silva, Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo and Vice-chairman of Caritas Sri Lanka, GA Representative from the district of Jaffna, Caritas national and diocesan centres, peace actors from the regions of the north and east and from the south together with Justice and Peace Commission members from diocesan secretariats. The theme of the 2-day forum, facilitated by two versatile and active individuals, Mr. Rukshan Fernando (Civil Activist) and Rev. Fr. Jude Sutharshan (American Mission), was “The UNHRC Resolution, Accountability for Rights Violations and Reconciliation in Context of the Ethnic Conflict”.

The objective of providing the space at Jaffna for the people of the regions of the north and east, revolving around the above theme, was to understand the seen and mostly the unseen difficulties faced by the people of the north and east regions, particularly as a result of the ethnic conflict. The second objective was furthering the already identified peace actors during the first phase. The Jaffna Forum was created as a platform for identification of peace actors mainly from the north and east regions, and providing space for dialogue among the identified stakeholders, together with peace actors from the rest of the island. The forum was guided by concrete and evidence-based dialogue, where a wide range of historical concerns faced by communities of the regions, and probable recommendations were documented.

 The introduction of the theme, in line with understanding the process of reconciliation in the regions of the north and east as related to the national reconciliation process was extensively discussed during the 2-days. The forum was held in two distinct sections, explore sessions where space was provided for expression of issues and contributions, and build sessions where the participants were involved in further analysis of the theme and the raised issues, to bring about an overall in-depth knowledge on these issues among all participants. Further, all documented contributions and recommendations made to establish a common way forward in unity, by collaboration of all representations, will be used to draft a position paper that would elaborate on the absorptions of the Jaffna Forum.

The Jaffna Forum, the second phase of the National Forum for Church Actors on Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka, came to a close with a solid understanding that continuation of such fora to provide space for dialogue and to foresee a tangible outcome for continued dialogue, among a greater number of peace actors is possible through togetherness of all related actors. Caritas Sri Lanka – SEDEC and the diocesan centres has created a roadmap for such fora, where phase 3 being the next step, would target a wider religious community for progressive dialogue.