As mentioned earlier, the Portuguese introduced Catholicism into Jaffna. Catholic missionaries built not only churches and convents but also schools and charitable institutions. The Tamil Catholics who were genuine in their conversion proved the strength of their religious conviction by their admirable perseverance under the harsh persecution unleashed by the Dutch Calvinists. They had to wait till 1839 when Britain officially granted them freedom of religious worship.
The second half help of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century witnessed the phenomenal revival of Catholicism. Under leaders like Orazio Bettacchini and Christopher Bonjean, it was able to establish itself firmly in the field of education. Saintly men like Sumeria excelled not only in religious leadership, but also in social involvement. Catholic priests were in the forefront to help and bury the victims of cholera, which plagued the Peninsula many times in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The first quarter of the twentieth century was marked by a wave of conversions and controversy spearheaded by Swami Gnana Prakasar of Nallur. Aggressive as a missionary, he was an excellent scholar and he established vital contacts between the Church and the world of Tamil scholars. This aspect paved the way for later scholars 1iKe Thaaveethu Adikal and Thaninayagam Adikal to make their marks in the field of Tamil research.
In the nineteen sixties, the Vatican Council introduced a fresh air of openness, cooperation and dialogue with other religions. It took sometime for the official Church in Jaffna to absorb and respond to this novel approach. But it has got over its initial hesitation and is now deeply engaged in dialogue with Saivites. In fact, the Catholic Church of Jaffna today is a well-organized and respected institution that has impressed the Jaffna population by its exemplary social involvement and help for the oppressed.
The Protestants of Jaffna belonging to denominations such as the Church of England, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, among others, contributed to the development of Tamil society in Jaffna in three interrelated ways:
-Fighting against caste system
-Raising the standard of women
Education was the springboard that provided an opportunity for the Protestant Churches to Proselytize on the one hand, and for Hindus to get Western education on the other hand,
The Protestant Seminary at Vaddukkoddai was an institution on a par with any of its kind in the Island.
It is also on record that able men like Christian David of Jaffna and Charles Sinnatamby of Point Pedro were ardent workers for the social amelioration of the low caste converts.
By opening schools and college for girls, opportunities were offered to females to get educated and become leaders.
It is no wonder that many eminent clerical servants, professionals, teachers and s
cholars were products of Protestant schools. It is not to be forgotten that S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, the “Father of the Tamil Nation”, was a practising Christian of eminence.