CHURCH and political leaders around the world joined together in mourning this week for the hundreds of people killed and injured in the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka.
As the news emerged early on Sunday morning of a series of explosions targeting two RC churches during Easter mass, one Evangelical church, and three luxury hotels in and around the capital of Colombo, religious leaders used their Easter messages to condemn violence and persecution, and to express solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka.
The RC Archbishop of Colombo, the Most Revd Malcolm Ranjith, said: “I condemn to the utmost of my capacity this act that has caused so much of death and suffering to the people.”
He urged the Government to hold “a very impartial and strong inquiry, and to find out who is behind this act . . . to punish them mercilessly, because only animals can behave like that.” He also urged people in Sri Lanka “not to take the law into their own hands, and to maintain peace and harmony in this country”.
Subsequent Easter services at RC churches in the country were cancelled. “It’s a very, very sad day for all of us. I wish to express my deepest sorrow and sympathy to all those families who have lost someone, and to those who have been injured and rendered destitute.”
Archbishop Ranjith requested prayers for healing of the injured and for the bereaved to be consoled, and urged blood donors to come forward.
The Anglican Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Revd Dhiloraj Canagasabey, said that he was “terribly shocked and deeply saddened by the barbarous acts of violence brought on innocent worshippers. . . The Church of Ceylon unreservedly condemns these cowardly and cruel acts of terrorism.”
He called on the government to take “quick action to investigate thoroughly these incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice, to ensure the safety of places of religious worship and to prevent any individuals or group from taking the law into their hands or provoking acts of intimidation or violence against any community or group”.
Bishop Canagasabey also told the people of Sri Lanka to “act with patience and understanding. The motives of those twisted and warped minds that planned and executed such appalling acts could very well be to destabilise the country and to cause damage to the unity and harmony of our nation.
“I pray that these persons, whoever they may be, will be awakened to the awfulness of their crime and will be moved to repentance.”
He concluded his statement with a prayer: “May the peace of the Risen Christ, who on the cross prayed for forgiveness, be with you all.”
In his Easter Day sermon in Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury reported that Bishop Canagasabey had begun the prayer of consecration during the Easter eucharist when police had told him: “You must come with us, they are about to come and kill you.”
The Bishop told Archbishop Welby that he had refused to move until he had finished the prayer: “If God gives me permission to live, I shall live. If he gives me permission to die, I shall die.”
Archbishop Welby told the congregation: “Today, we say the Easter acclamation, Christ is risen, with bittersweet joy, knowing that our sisters and brothers, and many others of other faiths, suffer and mourn.”
He later said in a statement: “Those affected by the appalling and despicable attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka will be in the prayers of millions marking Easter Sunday around the world today. On this holy day, let us stand with the people of Sri Lanka in prayer, condolence and solidarity as we reject all violence, all hatred and all division.”
During his address in St Peter’s Square, on Easter Day, Pope Francis said: “I was informed with sadness of the news of the serious attacks which, precisely today, on Easter Day, have brought pain and mourning in some churches and other meeting places in Sri Lanka.
“I entrust to the Lord those who are tragically deceased, and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer due to this dramatic event.”
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said: “The targeting of churches in this manner is an attack on religious peace and harmony and on the social and cultural fabric of the nation, which has long struggled to uphold principles of religious harmony and diversity.”
The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, said: “Cold, calculating and carefully planned barbaric acts of terror were launched against people exercising their freedom to worship, relax or go about their daily business. I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, those possessed of perverse and sick minds and who both planned and executed these dreadful attacks.”
The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that the UK would give “any help” it could to the Sri Lankan authorities in the aftermath. To target worshippers on Easter Day, he said, was “unspeakably wicked. Everyone has a right to practise their faith in peace, safety and security but tragedies like this, and the one in Christchurch, remind us that there are some who hate these rights and freedoms.
“These despicable acts were carried out at a time when millions of Christians celebrate Easter while living under the shadow of persecution. Many gather in churches at risk of attack; countless more will have suffered threats or discrimination.”
His statement came after the Prime Minister’s statement, on Sunday. She said that “no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear.”
The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, is to lead a government review into the global extent of Christian persecution and the foreign office response (News, 1 February). Speaking before the Sri Lanka attacks, he told The Times, that the UK had “something of a blind spot to the persecution of Christians. That’s true culturally. . . and in terms of public policy.
“There is a lot of post-colonial guilt around a residual sense that the Christian faith is an expression of white western privilege. Whereas actually the Christian faith is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the . . . global poor and people who, by their very socio-economic status, are vulnerable.”