Catholic priest's over-long sermon saves his 1,500 congregation
By Caroline Davies in Mullaittivu
The Roman Catholic priest surveyed what remained of St Peter's church and shook his head in bewilderment.
James Pattinathan should have been dead. So, too, should the 1,500 Catholics
who, every Sunday, fill his four churches along the beach in Mullaittivu, a
small town in Tamil Tiger controlled territory on Sri Lanka's north-eastern
But yesterday, one week after the tsunami razed the town claiming 1,900 lives and leaving 2,500 missing, he was still there. His churches were flattened, but many of his people were safe.
The 30ft wave rolled over the town on Boxing Day just as Mass should have
been held - yet his churches were empty. It was one of only three days each
year when Fr Pattinathan cancels Mass in the churches so worshippers can
gather instead for a service at St Joseph's shrine, higher up on the
outskirts of the town.
Some 1,500 men, women and children had gathered for the ceremony, which overran by 15 minutes. "The sermon was too long. You know how people complain about that," he said.
"But, in this case, it saved their lives. Had it ended on time, they would have been walking back to their homes just as the wave struck." He added: "It was a providential act. We have no explanation."
Fr Pattinathan looked down at the statue of St Bernadette, standing virtually undamaged amid the debris of the church. It was small solace for a town virtually obliterated by the tsunami.
The sandy beach is carpeted with debris. A hundred yards from St Peter's, there once stood the Pentecostal church. The whole congregation of around 80 was lost.