St. Peter’s Square, Rome — The joy of Easter Mass was marred with sadness as more attacks on the Christian faithful are reported. Pope Francis lamented the Easter Sunday attacks on several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, which killed at least 207 people and wounded more than 450 others.
Images from inside St. Anthony’s Kochchikade, the largest Roman Catholic congregation in Colombo, showed shattered wooden pews and floors stained with blood.
The bombings were the deadliest violence in the country since the end of its civil war in 2009. Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation but is also home to significant Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities.
At least 66 people were killed in Colombo and 104 in the nearby town of Negombo, officials said. Twenty-eight people were killed in the eastern city of Batticaloa.
Three police officers were killed in a “scuffle” at a house in the Demtagoda area of Colombo, police said. They had gone to the house to interrogate an individual.
“I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka], wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.” Pope Francis said at the conclusion of his Easter Urbi et Orbi address to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square.
The Holy Father said the multiple attacks on churches and hotels around Sri Lanka “have wrought grief and sorrow”.
“I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished,” he said, “and I pray for the injured and all those who suffer as a result of this tragic event.”
The pontiff tweeted:
The resurrection of Christ is the true hope of the world. Happy #Easter!
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 21, 2019
In a predominantly Buddist country, unknown attackers set off at least seven explosives on Easter Sunday morning at three churches and four hotels. Easter is the highest of holy days next to Christmas on the Christian calendar. High holy days historically bring Christian faith churches and gatherings to their largest capacities. Christian churches and monuments appear to be targeted more heavily during the holy holiday seasons.
Two of the churches targeted were Catholic and one was an evangelical church.
The first blast hit St. Anthony’s Catholic Shrine in Kochchikade, a district north of the capital Colombo, causing heavy casualties.
Dozens of people died at St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church in Negombo, another district north of Colombo.
The targeted evangelical church was in Batticaloa in Eastern Province, where more than two dozen people were killed. The explosions struck within a short period of time, all targeting the faithful as Easter services were beginning.
The attacks appear to be coordinated as the churches and hotels were all hit at around the same time on Sunday morning. Blasts struck four hotels in Colombo, including the Shangri-La Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand.
At least nine foreigners were killed in Sunday’s attacks.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, said it is “a very, very sad day for all of us.”
“I wish, therefore, to express my deepest sorrow and sympathy to all those innocent families that have lost someone, and also to those who have been injured and rendered destitute,” he continued.
Cardinal Ranjith said, “I condemn – to the utmost of my capacity – this act that has caused so much death and suffering to the people.”
He also called on Sri Lanka’s government to hold “a very impartial, strong inquiry and find out who is responsible behind these acts.”
Sri Lankan authorities announced a nationwide curfew, effective immediately. They also blocked Facebook and the messaging application WhatsApp to stop the spread of false and inflammatory messages.
Messages of condolence and condemnation poured in from around the world.
President Trump tweeted: “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!”
The Church of England posted a prayer for the people of Sri Lanka on Twitter.
God our saviour,
look on this wounded world
in pity and in power;
hold us fast to your promises of peace
won for us by your risen Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
— The Church of England (@churchofengland) April 21, 2019