Sri Lanka’s Catholics awoke to celebrate Sunday mass in their homes by a televised broadcast as churches across the island nation shut over fears of militant attacks.
A week after Easter suicide bombings at three churches and three hotels killed at least 253 people, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, delivered a homily before members of the clergy and the country’s leaders in a small chapel at his Colombo residence – an extraordinary measure underlining the fear still gripping this nation of 21 million people.
“This is a time our hearts are tested by the great destruction that took place last Sunday,” Ranjith said. “This is a time questions such as ‘does God truly love us’, ‘does He have compassion towards us’, can arise in human hearts.”
In a rare show of unity, the president, Maithripala Sirisena, the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the opposition leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, attended the mass. Their political rivalry and government dysfunction have been blamed for a failure to act upon intelligence that preceded the bombings.
All Sri Lankan churches were asked to ring bells on Sunday while the lamp lighting took place.
The US embassy in Colombo has warned against attending any service at a place of worship this weekend.
In the eastern district of Ampara on Sunday, where a gunfight and explosions the previous day left 15 people dead near the eastern town of Kalmunai, soldiers guarded St Mary Magdalen’s church. A sign on the gate said the church and the school would be closed until 6 May. A nearby mosque also had soldiers stationed outside.
Sri Lanka is majority Buddhist but has significant Hindu and Muslim populations. About 7% are Christian and most are Roman Catholic.