ucanews.com reporter, Colombo
Updated: April 23, 2019 08:34 AM GMT
The aftermath of the bombing that killed 28 people at St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade in Colombo on Easter Sunday. Catholic leaders have appealed for people to remain calm after the terrorist attacks. (Photo by Niranjani Roland)
Catholic bishops have urged Sri Lankans to stay calm and act with prudence and restraint following the Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 300 people.
After the death toll rose to 310, April 23 was declared a national day of mourning and the country observed three minutes of silence at 8.30 a.m. as a tribute to victims of the terrorist attacks.
The government has blamed a local Islamist group called National Thowheeth Jama'ath for the suicide bombings that hit three churches and three upmarket hotels packed with tourists. It believes the group was helped by an international network.
More than 500 people were hospitalized after Sri Lanka’s worst violence since its civil war ended in 2009.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka said it expects the government to conduct an immediate inquiry and urged citizens to remain calm.
"Ensure the safety of all citizens of the country," said Bishop Winston S. Fernando, the conference president.
"The fact that this attack on churches took place when the people were at worship on the most sacred feast of Easter is indeed a cruel act which is extremely deplorable.
"Following the example of Jesus Christ who underwent undeserved suffering and offered himself to serve humankind, we must also be prepared to have a compassionate heart and prayerfully seek solutions in a human and just manner."
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said he was concerned that authorities had not acted immediately after receiving prior information of possible terror attacks.
"Strengthen the state intelligence services,” he told a press conference on April 22. “We were informed that the Easter Sunday attacks could have been avoided if the government had acted on the prior information."
Cardinal Ranjith also urged citizens not to harm any person of any other religious faith.
A relative of a victim of the bombing at St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade. (ucanews.com photo)
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) called on authorities to take immediate action to prevent such violence from spreading.
"We call upon those in authority to take speedy and decisive steps to hold all perpetrators to account without fear or favor,” it said in a statement on April 22.
The CPA has often condemned the impunity that has prevailed following attacks on places of religious worship and restrictions on freedom of religion in recent years.
"The most recent of these was a mere week ago with the attack on the Methodist Prayer Centre in Kundichchaankulama, Anuradhapura, on April 14," said the CPA.
"We must desist from actions that lead to communal divisions, fear and hate. And we must ask for nothing less from our political and religious leaders, especially in this election year."
Rev. Asiri Perera, president of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, said the attacks could have been avoided if the government was more serious in implementing the law.
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka called on the Christian community to remain calm and refrain from being misled by rumors during this time of crisis. It also urged the government and security forces to take all steps necessary to bring the perpetrators to justice.
All Catholic-run schools in Sri Lanka have been closed until April 29 as a precaution due to the security situation.
Several bombs exploded at St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade and the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaloa between 8.45 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. on Easter Sunday. The Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo were also attacked by suicide bombers.
As police hunted those responsible, two further explosions were reported. One blast hit near the zoo in Dehiwala, southern Colombo, and an eighth was reported near the Colombo district of Dematagoda during a police raid, killing three officers.
According to the 2012 census, out of Sri Lanka’s population of about 22 million, 70 percent are Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim and 7.6 percent Christian.
Watch this ucanews.com video on the attack against St. Sebastian’s Church.