‘You will not stop us from being the people of God’

24 April 2019

Senior pastor of one of the churches targeted in Sri Lanka speaks of forgiving the attackers

Reuters

A suspected bomber walks towards the front of St Sebastian’s, Negombo

A suspected bomber walks towards the front of St Sebastian’s, Negombo

THE senior pastor of Zion Church in Sri Lanka, one of three churches targeted in a series of fatal explosions on Easter Day, has spoken of forgiving the people behind the attacks.

More than 350 people were killed and 500 people injured in eight explosions carried out by suicide-bombers in and around the capital of Sri Lanka, on Sunday morning.

St John’s, Southall, in south London, which is tied with Bethany Church, a Sri Lankan church-community, hosted an ecumenical service of prayer for the victims on Monday evening.

The Vicar of St John’s, the Revd Anna Poulson, said on Tuesday: “I immediately reached out to the pastor [of Bethany] on Sunday to give our condolences and prayers, and to ask if they wanted to hold a service at St John’s, because they don’t have their own church building.”

The service was attended by the Revd Roshan Maheshan, who is the senior pastor of Zion Church, an Evangelical church in Batticaloa, one of the three churches targeted on Easter Day. He had been spending Holy Week and Easter in Norway, and has since returned to Sri Lanka.

Ms Poulson described his address: “He spoke so movingly about what had happened [and] the scripture: ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.’ His message to the people who have done this was: ‘We love you, and we won’t stop loving you. We forgive you, and you will not stop us from being the people of God for Jesus Christ in Batticaloa.’”

Her husband, Canon Mark Poulson, a former interfaith adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who now oversees interfaith relations at St Paul’s Cathedral, read out statements from the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullaly, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Bishop Mullaly said: “We are all in a state of shock and grief after the bombings across the island of Sri Lanka yesterday — but what happened was not just a tragedy, it was an act of evil. The killing of men, women and children in Sri Lanka yesterday was not only a crime against humanity, but a crime against God.

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“Nobody should fear violence, harm or attack whilst worshipping God- our churches should be places of sanctuary, oases of peace. . . We weep with their families and friends and with the whole nation of Sri Lanka, which is understandably so traumatised.

“My appeal is that we should not resort to anger in the midst of our sadness and confusion. Let’s not let the terrorists take us down the dead-end route of despair, hatred, and a thirst for retribution.”

Archbishop Welby said: “There is something especially blasphemous about the wanton and indiscriminate taking of human life on the day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of the Lord of all life: Jesus Christ, saviour of the World.

“The killing of those who were engaged in worship is an obscene denial of the basic freedom God has given us all. Sri Lanka has suffered so much as a nation, and the trauma of these deaths cannot serve the purpose of anyone who truly knows God, the creator and sustainer of life in all its fullness.

“Although I cannot be with you in person, please be assured of my thoughts and prayers for you as you meet in Southall, and for all who grieve in Sri Lanka.”

Canon Poulson also convenes an interfaith forum in the area, members of which gathered outside St George’s, Southall, on Tuesday evening, to pay their respects. A similar vigil was held outside Southall Mosque after the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

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