Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (center) holds high Mass at St. Anthony's Shrine on June 13 with Bishop Emmanuel Fernando, Bishop J.D. Anthony Jayakody and Bishop Maxwell Grenville Silva. (Photo by Niranjani Roland)
St. Anthony's Shrine has celebrated its first feast since being damaged in the Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people in Sri Lanka.
The shrine in the Kochchikade area of the capital Colombo was consecrated and reopened to the public on June 12 and celebrated its 185th annual feast on June 13.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith held high Mass and said that religion cannot be used as an excuse for murder.
“Don’t try to make this land the land of blood for the sake of your selfish motives,” he said during his sermon in front of ambassadors, politicians, navy officials, bishops, priests, nuns and laymen on June 13.
“Somebody used these people for the attacks because they had a plan to capture our country or our culture."
Cardinal Ranjith said that religion can never make people slaves but should guide people to follow the correct path.
"Our Catholics stood for others in a disciplined manner. Our Catholics did not attack any Muslims after these attacks on churches. We protected Muslims. That is called religion," he said.
“We ask St. Anthony to help us restore peace, unity and coexistence in the country. It is important to have trust and harmony."
Nine suicide bombers launched simultaneous attacks on six targets including three churches on April 21, killing 253 people, nearly all Christians. They later claimed to be affiliated with the Islamic State terror group.
After being attacked, St. Anthony’s Shrine could only open a limited area for devotees, but after being repaired by Sri Lanka’s navy it will now host Masses as normal, with extra security measures in place.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the shrine on June 9 to pay tribute to the bombing victims. He said he was confident that Sri Lanka would rise again and that cowardly acts of terror would not defeat the nation’s spirit.
Top Vatican official Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, visited the shrine on May 22. He said the bombings were an attack on the nation as a whole rather than being directed at Christians alone.
The 185-year-old shrine dates back to the Dutch colonial era. Its statue of St. Anthony was brought from Goa in India in 1822. Construction of the shrine started in 1828 and it was consecrated on June 1, 1834.