ucanews.com reporter, NegomboUpdated: June 10, 2019 10:25 AM GMT
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) shakes hands with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena during a welcoming ceremony in Colombo on June 9. Modi made an unscheduled stop at St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade. (AFP photo)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited neighboring Sri Lanka and paid his respects to the victims of Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed 253 people and injured hundreds.
He made an unscheduled visit to St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade where 93 people were killed when the national shrine was attacked.
"My heart goes out to the families of the victims and the injured. I am confident Sri Lanka will rise again. Cowardly acts of terror cannot defeat the spirit of Sri Lanka. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka," Modi said after his June 9 visit.
Parishes in Sri Lanka resumed Dahampasal (Sunday school) on June 9, seven weeks after nine suicide bombers linked to Islamic State launched simultaneous attacks on six targets.
Catholic leaders had closed all their Sunday schools for fear of further attacks after the bombings on April 21.
Parents and police officers arranged searches inside and outside church premises to ensure security. People attending church services and Sunday schools were also searched.
Villagers and parents have been watching church and school premises day and night.
"Parents should form a vigilance committee to check bags at church gates and give protection around halls of Sunday schools until it winds up," said Father Lester Joseph Nonis, catechetics coordinator in Colombo Archdiocese.
"Issue identity cards to members of the vigilance committee to assist government security forces and police."
Sunday school students were asked to bring only a text book, exercise book and a pen without a bag.
Vigilance committee members checked bags at church gates. Army, navy, air force and police officials still stand guard at churches celebrating Mass or holding other activities.
Security personnel remained tense after swords and explosives were found during search operations over the last month.
Sri Lanka’s government has banned Islamic face veils that make it hard to identify people, calling them a threat to national security. Critics say this is a form of religious persecution explicitly targeting Muslims.
The country is awaiting cabinet approval for a proposal to make Sunday school education compulsory for students aged 6-19 of all religions.
The Catholic Church has 1,155 Sunday schools, more than 13,000 teachers and nearly 202,000 students in 12 dioceses across Sri Lanka.
Sajitha Ranjan, 16, and her sister were delighted to attend Sunday school in their parish in Negombo. "We still have fears and my father is waiting until the end of classes," she said.