A woman walks past St. Anthony’s Shrine on the first anniversary of the Easter Sunday attacks in Colombo on April 21. (Photo: Ishara Kodikara/AFP)
Sri Lankan bishops have condemned a statement made before the Easter Sunday Commission by opposition MP Harin Fernando.
Fernando appeared before the commission investigating the 2019 Easter bombings and said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had not conducted a Mass in a public church on Easter Sunday morning, April 21, the day of the tragedy, because he was aware of the impending danger.
Fernando, a former cabinet minister and member of the National Unity Movement, called on the commission to investigate the non-holding of the main Mass, which is held every year.
Cardinal Ranjith celebrated Easter Mass on the evening of April 20 at St. Lucia's Cathedral in Kotahena, Colombo.
"Cardinal Ranjith also conducted a Mass at the archbishop's residence on Easter Sunday, the day of the bombing," Colombo Archdiocese auxiliary bishops Maxwell Silva, Anthony Jayakody and Anton Ranjith said in a statement on Sept. 20.
On April 21, 2019, suicide bombers affiliated to Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath targeted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing at least 279 people, including 37 foreign nationals, and injuring at least 500.
In the aftermath, the public and religious leaders blamed politicians and government officials for failing to prevent the attacks.
Some of those injured in the bomb blasts are still hospitalized, while 381 families in Katuwapitiya and Kochchikade were affected and 32 children were killed.
The bishops said Cardinal Ranjith was informed of the bomb blast at St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade after returning to his room after the Eucharist on Easter Sunday.
"As soon as he heard of the incident, he went to St. Anthony's with Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Jayakody to meet the affected people," said the statement.
Bishops said the claim made by Fernando in connection with the cardinal is false. "Neither Cardinal Ranjith nor the bishops nor any Catholic priests were aware of the Easter Sunday attack beforehand.”
The bishops said they hope the government will take appropriate legal action against those behind this heinous crime as well as against political leaders who seriously neglected their duties and officials in the public administration and intelligence services.
Several politicians have stated on social media that the former president should be arrested for seriously neglecting his responsibilities in the aftermath of the Easter bombing.
Antony Vismitha Fernando, a victim from Negombo, urged politicians not to exploit their suffering and agony for their own gain.
"Over a year has passed but the Easter victims still suffer without justice for their loved ones. Still, there is a person who sleeps at the cemetery in Negombo after losing their whole family," said Fernando.