Updated: April 22, 2019 10:45 AM GMT
Soldiers guard St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo where 28 people were killed in a bomb attack on April 21. (ucanews.com photo)
Pope Francis and religious leaders across Asia have expressed their Christian unity and condolences after the terror attacks in Sri Lanka that killed almost 300 people on Easter Sunday.
The pope used his Easter Sunday address to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square in Rome to speak about the bombings of churches and hotels that devastated the island nation.
"I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence," he said.
"I entrust to the Lord all those who were tragically killed and pray for the injured and all those who are suffering as a result of this dramatic event.
“I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka], wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”
'Religion in terrorism'
In Pakistan, which has suffered many similar attacks on Christians, the Center for Legal Aid and Assistance (CLAAS), a non-profit law firm which takes up cases of persecuted Christians, is holding a protest on April 22 against terrorism.
“Humanity died this Sunday. Satan is using religion in terrorism,” said CLAAS national director Joseph Francis.
“We offer every possible cooperation to the Sri Lankan government. This incident is a danger for world peace. Leaders of all nations should forget their differences and join hands in making a doable policy.”
Implementation Minority Rights Forum, a Catholic NGO, is holding a candlelight vigil for the victims of church attacks on April 22 in front of Lahore Press Club.
Father Saleh Diego, director of Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), said Sri Lanka had been seen as a peaceful country but was now suffering due to sick-minded people and their hatred for peace and Christianity. He demanded “stern action” against those responsible.
In a joint statement on behalf of the NCJP, Archbishop Joseph Arshad (chairman), Father Emmanuel Yousaf (national director) and Cecil Shane Chaudhry (executive director) said the attacks were evidence of a rising tide of extremism and radicalization all over the world. Governments need to improve security measures specifically for worship places.
Archbishop Arshad strongly condemned such an inhuman act at Easter and prayed for the souls of the deceased and their families.
"The entire Christian community and Church in Pakistan are deeply saddened by this horrific act. While we pray for the souls of the departed, we ask the Lord to give strength to the wounded and the grieved families. May the perpetrators of this heinous act be brought to justice," said the archbishop.
Father Shahzad Arshad, priest of St. Michael’s parish in Karachi, said he had spoken to his friends in Sri Lanka to express solidarity on behalf of the Pakistan Church. He said Pakistan’s Christian community is standing with the victims of "such cruel violence.”
Easter Masses around Pakistan were cut short following the attacks. The influx of worshipers decreased as the threat of terror increased, said William Arif Khan, who is in charge of security at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.
'Terrorism is irrational'
Christian and Muslim leaders in Indonesia have condemned the attacks across Sri Lanka.
Bishop Dominikus Saku of Atambua, chairman of the Indonesian bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace, called the bombings “brutal attacks.”
“People were still praying when the bombings occurred,” he told ucanews.com. “Perpetrators wanted to kill many innocent people. They were so obsessed with crimes against humanity.”
The prelate urged Asian nations to improve their security standards, particularly in places of worship and public facilities, to prevent similar attacks.
“Terrorism is irrational. The perpetrators’ target has changed — it is no longer their enemies but innocent people,” Bishop Saku said, adding that many churches in Indonesia have tightened their security following bomb attacks in recent years.
Irma Riana Simanjuntak, spokeswoman for the Jakarta-based Communion of Protestant Churches in Indonesia, said her group condemned such terror attacks.
“It is so tragic that the bombings targeted people who were still praying. All forms of violent crimes which cause terror, hatred, and hostility that end up with killings are against the teachings of any religion,” she said.
“The bombings warn us that we must never tolerate intolerance and violence.”
Anwar Abbas, secretary-general of the Indonesian Ulema Council, called on Sri Lankan police to immediately bring the perpetrators of such “inhumane crimes” to court.
“They must be severely sentenced,” he said, calling on the international community to not link the bombings with religion.
Hundreds of people gather after the attack on St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo. (ucanews.com photo)
'Attacks on peace and humanity'
In the Philippines, Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said the attacks were "extremely evil" and "blasphemous" because they happened on Easter Sunday.
Bishop Bastes said the choice of churches to bomb was absolutely "diabolic" because people were gathered to thank God for giving a glorious life on Easter.
"We the living can only entrust ourselves to God who judges justly while requesting the civil authorities do their duty of keeping people safe from satanic terrorists," said the prelate.
Archbishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao expressed sadness over the attacks.
"It is too sad that those innocent worshipers whose intention was only to celebrate Easter died due to cruel acts of violence," he said.
"I hope those who participated in the planning and execution of such terroristic acts will not be given peace of mind unless they repent and face a court of law."
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said the bombings in Sri Lanka were "attacks on peace and humanity."
"Let us pray that [the people of Sri Lanka] may remain strong, firm with their faith and rise up again," he said.
Church leaders in India were shocked to learn about the blasts in the island nation, also known the tear drop of India.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Bombay, said the Church in India is “deeply saddened and pained” by the attacks.
He told ucanews.com that he had phoned Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo and offered “the prayerful solidarity of the Church in India.”
“We offer our prayerful solidarity with the families of the victims and survivors of church bombings. On this Great Feast of Hope of the Resurrection, our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka are devastated by this senseless violence. We pray to the Risen Jesus for Peace,” he said.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian bishops’ conference, said the violence in Sri Lanka “affects and pains everyone in India.”
“Every drop of blood shed today on Colombo is from the veins of each one of us as we all form one humanity,” he told ucanews.com.
“Our hearts weep for those who died and who continue to bleed in Colombo … but we weep even more for those heartless cowards whose hatred blinds them to massacre innocent human beings,” he said.
“It is sad and tragic not just for Christians but for humanity itself. The misery created by these and other killings is motivated by hatred. Some people continue supporting those who spew and promote hate covertly and overtly. That’s should be a concern for humanity.
“Why do innocents have to die to soothe the hatred of bigots? It is more tragic as it happened during Easter celebrations.
“We weep not only for those who died and were injured but also for those who spread the chilling hatred with the blood of innocence.”
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal said the attackers have neither religion nor a god.
“Killing people praying in a church, temple or mosque is clear proof that those behind the terror have no religion, nation or citizenship. There is no humanity left in them at all,” he said.
However, “we will not hate them, instead we will pray for them. Because they do not know what they are doing.”
“Christ taught us to love our enemy and we will continue to pray for those behind the terrorist act, even when we do not know who they are and what their motives are,” the archbishop said.
Premeditated and targeted
Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh, condemned the “brutal, heinous act of terror.”
"We mourn with the people of Sri Lanka. We pray for the eternal rest of the dead and the speedy recovery of the injured," he said.
"No doubt the bombings on Easter Sunday were premeditated and targeted Christians and foreigners to get maximum global coverage. It seems those behind the blasts are religious extremists following the ideology of global extremist outfits.
"The government of Sri Lanka should investigate their lack of security and surveillance prior to the deadly attacks despite having some indications and information about impending attacks.
"I don't want to believe the bombings were a revenge attack for the New Zealand mosque attacks recently. There are extremist people and groups in various countries. Good people should rise up and join their governments to denounce and stand against extremists everywhere."
Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul sent a condolence letter to Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo on April 22.
“It was a great shock to hear that lots of people were killed by spontaneous terror inside churches and hotels in Sri Lanka,” he wrote.
“Moreover, it is more painful to hear that faithful who enjoy the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ were sacrificed. I wish the sacrificed rest in peace in the arms of God.”
In Muslim-majority Malaysia, the Council of Churches of Malaysia issued a statement condemning the atrocity as it warned of forces around the world attempting to promote intolerance.
Rev. Hermen Shastri, its general secretary, said: “Religiously motivated violent acts are committed deliberately by religious zealots out to fan hatred and to destabilize the peaceful coexistence of diverse communities in a democratic society.
“In response to the growing reality of religiously motivated terrorism, the CCM states categorically that it rejects any violent act based on hatred in the name of religion or ethnicity.
“In support of the recent Kuala Lumpur Declaration of Peace, the CCM pledges its unequivocal support to being in solidarity with the citizens of the world and in developing an environment of peace and justice based on the recognition of diversity and religious freedom which is the cornerstone of modern progressive societies.
“It is our fervent hope and prayer that the government of Sri Lanka will bring the perpetrators of such heinous crimes to justice.”
Christians in Malaysia, he said, “stand with the suffering of the persecuted while affirming that because of Easter, the powers of evil will hold no sway over the righteous and just will of God.”
'Strengthen all people of goodwill'
In Myanmar, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon said he felt “sincere anguish at this tragedy that has taken a toll on scores of innocent human lives on the very day when we celebrate world over the victory of life and goodness over death and evil.”
Cardinal Bo, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said he was praying for all victims, caregivers and relief agents.
“We need to plead the mercy seat of the Risen Lord Jesus, the Prince of Hope and Peace, to strengthen all people of goodwill to help stabilize the situation of fear and suspicion that has arisen following the blasts,” he said.
Bishop Alexander Pyone Cho of Pyay said it was a shock to hear the news despite not yet knowing the motives of the bombers.
He said it was an act of evil to target Christians due to hate speech and extremist ideology. “As Christians, we need to show our love instead of responding with revenge,” Bishop Pyone Cho told ucanews.com.
Rev. Kyaw Nyunt, associate pastor of Judson Church in Yangon, condemned the acts of extremists who target Christians.
“We don’t need to be in fear as we Christians need to move forward the way of Jesus as Jesus Christ himself was crucified on a cross and attacked by people,” he told ucanews.com.
In Thailand, Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, the archbishop of Bangkok, sent a letter of condolence to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka expressing the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand’s “deep sorrow and spiritual solidarity with your priests, religious and all Sri Lankan faithful.”
It added: "We offer our prayers, especially for the victims and their families. We join with all people of goodwill in condemning these acts of terrorism. This evil cannot overcome the hope found in our savior’s resurrection.”
Watch this video on the attack against St. Sebastian’s Church.