A Catholic Priest Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph (70), who had been serving in Vanni War Zone with six other priests in Puthumaaththalan is reported missing, according to the request made to ICRC by Jaffna Bishop House to find his whereabouts, on 28th May 2009.
In early 2013, the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna wrote a letter to the President and members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka and pointed out that the Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev. Dr R. Joseph, has stated that 146,000 Tamil people were missing and still unaccounted for.
One of the missing people was a Catholic priest, Father Francis Joseph. He was last seen on May 18, 2009, being taken by the Sri Lankan Army. This was witnessed by at least one Australian Citizen, who has borne testimony to this.
Over the past more than four years, several attempts have been made by leaders of the Catholic church in Sri Lanka, particularly the priests and bishops to seek advice from the Sri Lankan security agencies about the whereabouts of Father Francis Joseph. No Information has been forthcoming. Father Francis Joseph was a humble priest, serving his people and protecting the vulnerable from violence and danger. He was a true servant of God, serving the destitute, the helpless and voiceless and answering the call of the gospel. It is time that the kind and just people all over the world, stand up, demand answers from the Sri Lankan Government about the whereabouts of Father Francis Joseph.
We are conducting a signature campaign, aimed at 10,000 signatures. This campaign is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your concern for the protection of human rights. Such is sacred in any one's language. We are calling on the Sri Lankan Government to provide information on the whereabouts of Father Francis Joseph since he was "taken away" by the Sri Lankan Army in May 2009.
We cannot easily forget the humanitarian services of Father Francis Joseph to the Tamil community in the North East of Sri Lanka. He is now considered as one among thousands who disappeared during the Tamil Genocide in May 2009.
People of the North East of Sri Lanka knew him only too well - his untiring services to the social raising of his people through education. After his retirement as Principal of St Patrick's College in Jaffna, Northern Sri Lanka, he dedicated the rest of his life to the sacred mission of educating the people of North East of Sri Lanka. When over five hundred thousand Jaffna Tamils displaced to Vanni in 1995, Father Francis Joseph became a full time servant of Tamil people in Vanni.
He was appointed as the President of the Tamil Eelam Educational Development Council in 2002. With his natural flair for the english language , his long experience as a teacher of English and an efficient Principal of an illustrious college it is no surprise Father Francis Joseph proved to be an efficient administrator and a good teacher. In 2004 after the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Father Joseph got himself fully immersed in establishing a college for English education, thus realising his long cherished dream.
The college started functioning successfully from Kilinochchi in 2004 ushering in a new awakening among the Tamil youth. With his duty as teacher and administrator Father Joseph personally imparted English knowledge to Tamil leaders at the college. In spite of such a busy schedule as teacher and administrator Father Joseph did not forget his religious duty as a priest at the Kilinochchi Parish. He also actively spoke for the freedom of his people. This had a huge impact on his health. When his health was seriously affected and needing urgent medical treatment, he refused to leave Vanni. He wanted to be with the people. He thought he may not be able to return to Vanni and continue his work if he went to Jaffna for medical treatment. The Catholic Church tried to convince him but his dedication and determination to stay in Vanni was so strong that he refused take their advice.
During the final stages of the war in early 2009, he had to move from place to place with the people. When Tamil leaders decided to send him by boat to safety, he adamantly refused saying he wanted to stay with them. He shared those gory days at the age of seventy five, helping and staying with disabled members of the Navam Institute in a bunker, attending to their needs. On 18th of May 2009 Father Francis Joseph was with his people and Tamil leaders as the Sri Lankan Army closed in. When some of the Tamil leaders decided to surrender to the army Father Joseph took the firm decision to lead them as he thought his language skills would be of help to them. Father Joseph and other Tamil leaders were loaded on a truck and taken away by the army. It was witnessed by thousands of people and among them was one Australian citizen.
Four years on, no one has returned to tell us the story of what happened to Father Francis Joseph. Father Francis Joseph who had spent every minute of his life for his people , is now a name in the list of those who had disappeared in May 2009.
Meanwhile, only five of the six priests serving with Rev. Francis Jospeh have reached Vavuniyaa while Rev. Fr. Mariampillai Sarathjeevan died on the way on 18 May. War Without Witness learned from a source that Rev. Fr. Mariampillai Thatheus Sarathjeevan was inside the bunker for several days continuously and starvation was the cause. A Sri Lankan priest, Fr Amalraj, who was caught with his parishioners in the so-called no-fire zone , has described army shelling as like rain. The concentration camps of the Second World War are here in Sri Lanka, Fr Amalraj said. Among those being held in camps are 20 Catholic priests.