A family pray at a cemetery at Katuwapitiya in Negombo after suicide attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed more than 250 people on Easter Sunday. (ucanews.com photo)
Fears of suicide bomb attacks kept many Christians and Muslims away from churches and mosques for Sunday Mass and Friday prayers.
The Catholic Church has halted Masses and Sunday schools until security improves after terror attacks killed more than 250 people on Easter Sunday. Many mosques cancelled Friday prayers in solidarity with churches. The gates of churches have been closed with padlocks since April 21.
Military checkpoints, and operations have become very common in most villages. Public gatherings and religious services have been cancelled. Tough security measures have been adopted by public and private institutions, with security officers checking bags and vehicles.
Christians and Muslims fear they may be targeted after the military warned there could be more attacks on religious centers.
Two Catholic churches, one evangelical church and three luxury hotels were targeted in the Easter Sunday attacks for which the so-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith held a private Mass in Borella on April 28 that was broadcast live on radio and television.
"We pray for those who lost their lives and that those who were injured will recover soon after this great tragedy last Sunday," he said during his homily.
"No one has the right to kill innocent people. Stop these killings in the name of God. Human life is the most beautiful and all of us are unique.
"God has created man for others and every person is a reflection of God, but these incidents are insults to humanity. We pray for peace and coexistence and understanding each other without division."
The cardinal has criticized Sri Lanka’s government for its failure to act on intelligence reports warning of terrorism. He said the government's behavior was absolutely unacceptable and he would have called off services if he had been warned in advance.
‘Rest in Peace’ banners can be seen on the fence of St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. (Photo by Quintus Colombage/ucanews.com)
All schools in the country remain closed after the suicide attacks.
Army troops had a gun battle with an extremist Muslim group at a house in Kalmunai on April 26. At least 15 people were killed including three who blew themselves up with suicide bombs, police said. Six children and three women were among those killed.
The government has banned two little-known Islamic organizations, National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI), in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks.
The government has also banned Muslim women from concealing their identity by wearing the burqa (all-covering dress) and the niqab (veil).
Catholic teacher Nadeera Wickramasinghe said the terrible attacks were the work of a few individuals and not of Sri Lanka’s entire Muslim community.
"We must always respect the wonderful diversity of Sri Lanka and fortify the culture of unity that the country needs to thrive," said Wickramasinghe.
"People of all backgrounds and faiths have come together to condemn these atrocities. Unity is the most powerful answer to terrorism."
The government has shut down social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, YouTube, Viber and WhatsApp.
Religious and Priests for Human Rights (RPHR) called on the government to conduct an impartial inquiry to determine the institutions and their heads that permitted this mayhem so that they can be prosecuted irrespective of their standing in the community.
"The Christian community in this moment of tragedy stood together and suffered patiently without having recourse to any acts of revenge. If the terrorists had the intention to provoke the community to retaliate, it did not happen," said Father Nandana Manatunga of RPHR.
"It is a clear defeat to those that planned and executed this carnage together with all their accomplices and a moment to witness the spirit of Christ.
"Instead of the taxpayers’ money being used to compensate victims, those responsible should be compelled to meet most of the expenses as part of their punishment."
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka appealed for people to refrain from hate speech and inciting communal violence, saying the best response to extremism and extremist violence is to work towards a just social order.
Britain, the U.S. and India have warned their citizens to avoid travelling to Sri Lanka.