Sillalai is a hamlet in the Jaffna district which is in the North of Sri Lanka. It is rich in vegetation, surrounded by paddy fields, and blessed with naturally good soil and water which is to irrigate paddy and vegetable cultivations as people Sillalai of the main livelihood is farming. Sillalai also called “Little Rome”, which has its own worldwide recognition in Catholicism, Tradition, Culture, Art, and Society.
Sillalai is also renowned for giving protection to St. Joseph Vaz, the missionary priest from Goa, during the Dutch persecution of Catholics. The Crucifix he gave to a family in the year 1687 is reverently preserved to this day by the descendants and the request from the emissary of Papal Secretariat for the Crucifix for the cause of his canonization and to be kept in the Vatican Museum was politely declined by the present holder of the Crucifix.
Sillalai Catholic Faith Story
Catholicism in Sillalai is well over 500 years when all its inhabitants were Catholics. History records that the statue of ‘Kathirai Matha’ a rare depiction of Mother Mary seated on a chair holding baby Jesus on her lap was brought to Sillali by the Portuguese. During the Dutch period, when the Catholics were persecuted, the people of Sillalai took great pains to protect the statue, transferring it from place to place and hiding it in deep wells and abandoned huts. The faith of the people have so far produced bishops, priests and nuns – over 50 from each, and many lay servers who serve in the vineyard of the Lord at different levels in Sri Lanka and abroad.
St. Joseph Vas Visit to Little Rome
On landing at Jaffna, St. Joseph Vaz found a strong Calvinist presence. As Catholic priests were banned by the Dutch authorities, he had to travel under the guise of a mendicant and to work in secret. After some time the townsfolk of Jaffna who had benefited from the ministrations of St. Joseph Vaz feared that news of his presence might leak out somehow and decided to remove him to a village in the outskirts in which the Catholics were strong and steadfast in their faith and would safeguard him from all danger at the cost of their lives if necessary and Sillalai that its name occurred to them immediately and that it was selected because the Catholics in that village had succeeded in keeping their faith secret.
As soon as this decision was made known to them, a trusty bodyguard from Sillalai went to jaffna and conducted St. Joseph Vaz under cover of darkness to their village. Sillalai which was then entirely Catholic later came to be known as “Little Rome”. Because of its smallness and relative unimportance, Sillalai had escaped the attentions of the Dutch; and it was able to preserve the faith intact because it had continued the system of appointing a Catechist to look after the Chapel, baptise the new born, instruct the young, bury the dead and in the case of disputes act as an Arbitrator.
Building of our Lady of Remedies church
The Sillali church was rebuilt at the same place by late Reverend by Father Louis Daisy OMI, The foundation stone for this building was laid in 1957 and completed in 1960. Fr.Daisy built the Church which is considered as one of the most beautiful churches in the Island. It was thoughtfully designed in the form of rainbow arcs without any pillars that block the view of the Altar from the Congregation. Sillalai was economically backward at that time. The people contributed whatever they could. The miraculous story of “Kathirai Matha” found the necessary funds from here and abroad from his relatives and friends in his mother land and also from charity organizations world over. Fr. Daisy encouraged the people of Sillalai to make their contribution by way of manual work for the building construction. He divided the village into many sections and the people of each section the elders, middle aged, the youth and even the school children contributed in the form of labour. With all the dedication, hard work, put together made new church was blessed and declared open by the then Bishop Rev. Jerome Emilianuspillai also we celebrated our church 60th diamond jubilee in 2017
Today s’ Little Rome
Sillalai is fondly called the “Little Rome” for its dedication to Catholicism. August 15th the feast of Our Lady is the Sillalai, celebrated on a very grand scale every year. Sillalaians from various parts of the countries gather around the altar as one family to celebrate their Church feast. The elegant church, the simple but beautiful decorations, the multitude of devotees is an inspiring sight to anyone who witnesses it