First Mass Celebrated at St Sebastian’s Church after the 2019 Easter Attacks

24 July 2019
The faithful venerate a statue of Jesus covered in the martyrs' blood during Holy mass at the St. Sebastian's Church, Katuwapitiya, Negombo, Sri Lanka. Image: Bartek Zytkowiak/Aid to the Church in Need.

 

The first Holy Mass was celebrated on the 21st of July at Saint Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo, Sri Lanka, three months after the Easter Sunday Attack (April 21st), where a suicide bomber killed close to 100 people.

The statue of Jesus that was marked with the martyrs’ blood, stands at the front of the Church and was venerated in memory of those that lost their lives.

The Mass was attended by 1000 people (including survivors) and was celebrated by the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. A special security plan was in place surrounding the church premises.

Cardinal Ranjith has criticised the Sri Lankan Government in regards to their handling of the Easter attacks, during the homily he said that there was still a question that required an answer…”Was there a way to prevent these attacks?” His Eminence said that he believes “there was more than one way to prevent the attacks, but nothing was done because of selfish politics and the greed for power.” He also said that “despite committees and commissions being appointed and reports being prepared…and although certain committees are said to have handed in their reports, we have not seen any of them. This is something that has always happened in Sri Lanka, everything is being hidden.”

A statue of Jesus covered in the martyrs’ blood stands before the faithful during Holy mass at the St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, Negombo, Sri Lanka. Image: Bartek Zytkowiak/Aid to the Church in Need.

Christians in Sri Lanka are still Fearful

Upon recently returning from a visit to Sri Lanka, Veronique Vogel (head of projects in Asia for Aid to the Church in Need), spoke of palpable tensions throughout the country, including the recurring unrest and fear. “The security measures throughout Sri Lanka were very strict during our visit; security forces and the military were everywhere. But fear persists, particularly among the Christian population. Everyone is well aware of the fact that more assassins were involved on Easter Sunday than were identified and arrested. Therefore, everyone knows that somewhere out there extremely dangerous people are running around who could attack again at any time.”

Cardinal Ranjith, has appealed to the public to remain calm and to refrain from carrying out acts of revenge. “During our trip, I repeatedly got the sense that the Christians were thankful for the words of their archbishop and were taking them to heart,” explained Veronique Vogel. Over a period of just a few days, the small delegation from ACN visited mainly the regions around the capital city of Colombo and the neighbouring city of Negombo, where most of the attacks on churches and hotels had taken place. “This trip was arranged so that we could see for ourselves the state of the Catholic parishes and to assure them of our solidarity. After all, the terrorist attacks were specifically targeted at Christians,” Vogel continued. “It is important for us to provide the benefactors of ACN with first-hand information about the situation on site to ensure that we don’t forget to pray for Sri Lanka and we can give the country our support.”

Ms Vogel explained that although the churches in the country have been made accessible again, many Christians are severely traumatised. “Many told me that they are afraid to enter a church at the moment, or that they feel fear when they hear the bells ring. Saddening testimony of just how stressful the memories of Easter Sunday must be for them.” However, she also discovered that many who had themselves become victims or had lost family members felt that their experiences had strengthened them in their faith. “Since the situation in the country had been comparatively quiet over the last few years, many people are having trouble understanding why they in Sri Lanka had to endure such suffering. But their will to live and their faith remain very strong. The Christians and the people in Sri Lanka do not want civil war, but are actively working to maintain lasting peace,” the head of projects in Asia for ACN emphasised.

The island nation of Sri Lanka is situated in the Indian Ocean and has about 22 million inhabitants, 70 percent of these Buddhists, 12.5 percent Hindus, 9.5 percent Muslims and 8 percent Christians. A large number of people were killed or severely wounded during the series of attacks on Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, that were mainly targeted at three Christian churches and three hotels in the capital city of Colombo, the neighbouring city of Negombo and the east coast city of Batticaloa. The latest figures estimate nationwide casualties of at least 253 dead and about 500 wounded. The authorities have announced that a local, radical Islamist group and jihadists were responsible for the attacks.

Over the last 15 years Aid to the Church in Need has invested more than AUD $12 million in projects for Sri Lanka. Among other projects, these funds were used for the building of Christian facilities, for Mass stipends for priests, for theological education and to ensure the local availability of Christian literature. In the wake of the latest terrorist attacks, Aid to the Church in Need Australia launched a National Campaign for the Church in Sri Lanka which has raised over AUD $70,000. ACN is committed to strengthening long-term pastoral aid in the country, to help heal wounds and bring back hope and confidence to the parishes.

If you would like to donate to the suffering Church in Sri Lanka you can do so by calling: 1800 101 201 (during business hours) or you can make a donation online at: www.aidtochurch.org/SriLanka

With thanks to Aid to the Church in Need Australia.

 

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