A life-size statue of St. Anthony of Padua in front of St. Anthony's Church in Weliweriya. The church reopened on June 13 to celebrate St. Anthony's feast after being closed for 87 days. (Photo: UCA News)
The Sri Lankan Church reopened by celebrating the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua after being closed for almost 90 days because of coronavirus restrictions.
After the government granted permission to reopen churches and other religious places on June 12, St. Anthony's Church in Weliweriya welcomed the opportunity to mark the feast on June 13 with few attendees in a low-key manner.
St. Anthony, who was born in 1195 and died in 1231, is one of the most popular saints in the Catholic Church.
Father Roshan Fernando, parish priest of St. Anthony's, said his parish media team had used 130 loudspeakers around the village and telecast all feast Masses and novenas from June 5-13 via the church’s website and social media to reach the faithful who could not attend services due to the lockdown.
"You can come to the church until the evening but I remind you to wear face masks and keep a one-meter distance," Father Fernando announced after Mass on June 14.
Flag hoisting, decorations, processions with thousands of attendees and alms giving were not seen this year. Instead people celebrated a very simple feast.
A procession with the miraculous statue of St. Anthony took to the streets around the village, but the faithful did not participate.
"The global pandemic has taught many lessons regardless of racial or religious differences," said Father Fernando.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith appealed to the government on June 7 to allow the faithful to attend religious services while following regulations as the country recovers from the pandemic.
The government granted permission to hold religious celebrations with up to 50 devotees wearing masks and keeping social distance as a precautionary measure to stem the spread of Covid-19.
Cardinal Ranjith celebrated the annual feast at St. Anthony's Church in Kochchikade. The church was one of three places of worship attacked by Islamic suicide bombers on Easter Day in 2019. At least 93 people were killed at the church.