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)
Catholic priests are pressuring the Sri Lankan government to bring the perpetrators of last year’s Easter attacks before the law and provide justice for victims.
With the whole country locked down in a curfew to tackle the coronavirus, priests held a special press conference on April 30 at one of the three attacked churches.
Father Manjula Niroshan said they are still waiting for everyone involved in the crime to be identified and to be brought before the law and their names revealed to the public.
"A year has passed but justice has not yet been served over these attacks," said Father Niroshan, parish priest of St. Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo, where 115 worshipers were killed on April 21, 2019.
"381 families in Katuwapitiya and Kochchikade have been affected and 32 children of Katuwapitiya have been killed."
All activities scheduled to mark the first anniversary of the attack have been canceled due to the lockdown to stem the Covid-19 outbreak. Sri Lanka had reported 663 cases of the coronavirus with seven deaths as of April 30.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith called for the nation to observe a two-minute silence and appealed for all places of worship to ring bells to commemorate victims of last year’s bombings on April 21.
On April 21, 2019, nine suicide bombers affiliated to local 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.
Nationals from Japan, Switzerland, Spain, the UK, Denmark, Portugal, India, Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, the US and China were among the dead.
Seven suicide bomb attacks were launched at two Catholic churches in Negombo and Colombo and one evangelical church in Batticaloa in the eastern part of the country between 8.45am and 9.30am.
Father Niroshan said there are 441 survivors from 313 families. "There are 10 people who are in bed and are unable to do anything even one year after the attack, and about 50 people are still being treated," he said.
In the aftermath of the atrocity, the public and religious leaders blamed politicians and government officials for failing to prevent the attacks.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka has reiterated its calls for justice for the dead and wounded, demanding that those who organized and financed the attacks be identified and prosecuted.
Father Jude Raj Fernando said the affected families are struggling to survive, while those who organized the attacks remain free.
"There is still hope that justice in the eyes of God will be fulfilled in an age when the truth is hidden in the face of money and power," he said.
"We remain hopeful that someday we will find justice in our faith in God," said Father Fernando, administrator of St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade, Colombo, where 51 people were killed in the Easter assault.
The church runs a scholarship program for 228 children affected by the attacks.
The church has received 516 million rupees (US$2.67 million) and spent 372 million rupees looking after the victims of the attacks. The balance of 144 million rupees is to be spent on their future prospects.
According to some political analysts, the Easter attack led to the presidential election in November 2019 when Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who announced his candidacy soon after the bombings, became president.
They claim the entire political campaign was based on the attack and an anti-Muslim platform and a Sinhala Buddhist majority agenda to gain power.
Cardinal Ranjith met President Rajapaksa in Colombo on April 28 and stressed the need to identify who was behind the atrocity.
Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, former director of the National Catholic Social Communication Centre, said he wants to know who was behind the bombings.
"Catholic priests in Negombo lament that one year has passed but justice has not been fulfilled for victims. As priests and faithful, we should give this voice to find justice for the victims," he said.