Sri Lanka's churches closed for second week

Pope Francis, church leaders call for tolerance and reconciliation in wake of Easter Sunday suicide bombings
Sri Lanka's churches closed for second week

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith holds a private Mass at the Archbishop's House church in Colombo on May 5. He read out a letter from Pope Francis at the end of the service. (ucanews.com photo)

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka
May 6, 2019
Catholic leaders canceled Sunday Masses as Sri Lanka’s churches remained closed for a second week for fear of further terrorist attacks after the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had earlier announced that Sunday Masses would be held on May 5 but he cancelled services after considering the latest security alert about possible attacks.

Catholic schools have been closed until further notice but all government schools were due to reopen on May 6.

A police curfew was imposed in Negombo on the night of May 5 after a clash between two groups in the Porutota-Kochchikade area. A military spokesman told media that the fight was between ethnic Sinhalese people and Muslims. He declined to say whether there were any arrests.

St. Sebastian’s Church in Catholic-majority Negombo was among the sites bombed in the Islamic State group-linked attacks on Easter Sunday.

Social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Viber and WhatsApp were blocked after the violence in Negombo.

Cardinal Ranjith held a televised private Mass at the Archbishop's House church in Colombo on May 5.

He said that faithful could have chosen to stay home but they all came to the church because of their love of God.

"These members of our community who sacrificed their lives, they are with God because they have passed away due to their strong faith," he said at the Mass.

Cardinal Ranjith refused to have a bullet-proof vehicle provided by the government and chose to travel in an ordinary car.

"I don't want a bullet-proof vehicle but I need security for the country," he said in a special media briefing.

"The government must formulate a permanent plan of action to strengthen national security with the participation of all political parties to ensure that there is no repetition of such incidents.

"We appeal to the government on behalf of all religious leaders not to allow the destabilization of the country to take place by creating dissension among different nationalities and those professing different faiths."

Cardinal Ranjith read out a letter from Pope Francis dated April 24 at the end of the Mass.

"With the followers of all religions, and men and women of goodwill everywhere, we express horror at this unspeakable offense against the holy name of God and I pray that hearts hardened by hatred may yield to His will for peace and reconciliation among all his children," the pope wrote.

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"Conscious of the wound inflicted on the entire nation, I likewise pray that all Sri Lankans will be affirmed in their resolve to foster social harmony, justice and peace."

Cardinal Ranjith has criticized the government for its failure to act on intelligence reports warning of attacks on religious places.

Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said in a May 3 statement that the Church is deeply concerned by reports of revenge and the targeting of of Muslim residents, refugees and asylum seekers in Sri Lanka.

“Many have fled persecution in their own lands and are now being targeted again. Almost 900 have been reported to have been at risk of reprisal and 150 were forced to seek shelter in police stations,” he said.

“Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka are both minorities and have faced similar discrimination. Turning against each other will only make their plight worse. Solidarity must prevail.

“The actions of a small group, representing an extreme interpretation of a religion, must not be used to judge the entirety of adherents to that faith.”

Cardinal Bo, the archbishop of Yangon, called on religious and community leaders to foster a sense of solidarity and rebuild trust between the communities.

“We call upon the authorities in Sri Lanka to take action against hate speech and protect the vulnerable. Ignoring this issue will only foster resentment, which is exactly what groups such as Islamic State desire,” he added.

“We cover the victims and families of victims in prayer, stand in solidarity with all who suffer persecution and hatred, and stand against all forms of intolerance, hatred, discrimination, violence and injustice. And we stand ready to help our brothers and sisters in humanity, of all faiths, in Sri Lanka.”

Anglican Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey has called on all citizens, particularly Christians, to embrace the Muslim community who have lived in Sri Lanka for many hundreds of years in peaceful coexistence.

"They must be treated with love and understanding and not be held responsible for the acts of a small number of depraved fanatics," he said.

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