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Sri Lankan Church seeks fair probe, justice over Easter attacks

Deadly bombings at churches, hotels left 279 people, mostly Catholic mass-goers, killed and wounded over 500
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo places a candle to honor the victims of 2019 Easter Sunday bombings on the fifth anniversary on April 21, 2024.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo places a candle to honor the victims of 2019 Easter Sunday bombings on the fifth anniversary on April 21. (Photo: Archdiocese of Colombo)

Published: April 22, 2024 11:24 AM GMT
Updated: April 23, 2024 05:28 AM GMT

Catholic Church officials in Sri Lanka have reiterated their call for an impartial and fair investigation to ensure justice for victims as they marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly Easter Sunday bombings on April 21.

"Today, I stand before you, demanding a true, fair and thorough investigation into the attacks, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo said during the anniversary event in the national capital.

"Only by finding the truth, not through finger-pointing, can this country begin to heal. It's time to end this political theatre,” he added.

Speaking at St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade of Colombo, Ranjith said, "Truth and justice are not playthings to be tossed aside. You cannot suppress them any more than a rubber ball is held underwater forever.”

The venue was among three churches and three luxury hotels that suicide bombers allegedly linked to a homegrown Islamic extremist outfit attacked simultaneously on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019.

The bombings left 279 people, primarily Catholic mass-goers, dead and wounded over 500.

The press meeting at the church was attended by survivors, relatives of victims, and Colombo’s diplomatic community, including Vatican ambassador Archbishop Brian Udaigwe, UN representative Marc-Andre Franche, and diplomats representing the 45 foreigners, including tourists who were killed in the attacks.

No politicians were invited to the ceremonies organized by the Church.

With the banner in the background that marked the standstill wall clock pointing 8.45 am- the exact time the extremists detonated the bombs that killed hundreds of churchgoers, it featured an accompanying text: “We are still awake until justice is done."

Candles were lit by families of victims, clergy, and representatives of religious leaders who participated in the ceremony in solidarity.

Malka Shalindi, who lost her father in the attack, spoke to the press on behalf of the victims and survivors.

Nimal Shantha died in the attack at Cinnamon Grand Hotel where he was the manager of the Taprobane restaurant.

"I lost the most important person in my life — my father. He won't be there to see me graduate from university in a few months. He won't be there to see me fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor because he was killed in cold blood,” Shalindi said in a choked voice.

"We were waiting for justice and truth. We knew that we would only be healed and reconciled by knowing the truth and by having justice. Five years have passed, and nothing is happening,” she added.

Buddhist monk Omalpe Sobitha Thero noted that the Easter attacks exposed the country's leadership's perceived irresponsibility, resulting in a public outcry and frustration.

“The President, Prime Minister, the Cabinet of Ministers who were in power at that time are now targets of public anger today. While the government claimed they had identified the culprits, many view it as a political game. No concrete steps towards punishment have been taken, leaving the public demanding justice. The truth cannot be buried, and victims deserve justice,” the monk stressed.

Sheik Moulavi Abdul Rahmahan Hazan, representing the Muslim community, said the political leadership seems "engaged in a blame game, refusing to acknowledge their own mistakes."

"Justice is truly what we demand,” he said.

Cardinal Ranjith said he still recalls a telephone conversation with former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after the Presidential Commission of Inquiry recommendations were handed to him.

He said that the ousted president expressed his inability to implement the recommendations that would lead to the potential arrests of leaders he favored and the organizations they represented.

“These attempts to disrupt the investigations and exert control by even removing and arresting investigation officers were deeply concerning. Our letter to President Rajapaksa demanding an impartial probe of the attacks received no response — not even an acknowledgment letter from his office,” the cardinal said.

Similarly, the cardinal alleged that the president's office had not acknowledged a letter sent to current President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct. 6 last year.

Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Brian Udaigwe expressed hope that “the controversies regarding the deadly act” will be resolved and justice will be served following investigations.

Sri Lankans in various parts of the country joined peaceful prayer and commemoration ceremonies to mark the anniversary.

Bishops, priests, and Catholics joined a walk from Maris Stella College in Negombo to St. Sebastian’s Church.

Catholics also signed a campaign letter seeking the Vatican's permission to start the canonization process for Easter Sunday victims.

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