Sri Lanka’s martyrs cry out to us, says Archbishop

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A Sri Lankan family kneels in prayer during the Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral on Friday 26 April. The cathedral was filled to standing room only with those praying for the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Mourners crowd Cathedral

The “true martyrs” killed during Easter Sunday Mass in Sri Lanka “cry out to us from their new-dug graves” and from “God’s right hand,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP told a packed special Mass and prayer vigil at St Mary’s Cathedral.

Those who were killed in three Christian churches in Sri Lanka were crying out to the world, pleading for “no more violence in God’s name or man’s,” he told the congregation on Friday evening.

“No more hatred and reprisals. Let us affirm with these true martyrs that Easter is new life and hope for all,” the Archbishop said.

Among those filling the Cathedral for Mass were many from Sydney’s Sri Lankan community as well as members of different faith communities including Buddhists, Hindus and representatives from the Ba’hai and Islamic communities.

They came together in solidarity and sorrow to mourn the 253 people killed in the terror attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, when suicide bombers simultaneously entered three Christian churches and several hotels. They detonated explosives killing themselves and killing and maiming hundreds of others. Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP lights a memorial candle at a vigil following the special Mass of Remembrance for the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Every victim was a life, every victim a brother or sister

“The 253 or so who died, hundreds more who were injured, and many more who were endangered, by the blasts at St Sebastian’s, or at St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, Zion Church in Batticaloa, or one of the hotels, are more than a death toll,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“Each victim has a story. They were people just like us, engaged in acts of worship, of leisure or of civic duty. We mourn them as our brothers and sisters.”

Several dignitaries also attended the Mass and prayer vigil including the Sri Lankan Consul-General Mr Lal Raj Wickrematunga, New Zealand Consul-General, Bill Dobbie, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Federal Labor Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek.

Numerous clergy concelebrated the Mass with Archbishop Fisher, including Bishops Terry Brady and Anthony Randazzo and Sydney’s Sri Lankan Catholic Chaplain Fr Chaminda Wanigasena.

During the Mass a special collection was taken up for the Catholic Archdiocese of Colombo to support families of the victims.

Attackers were blasphemers

True martyrdom is “something people may endure for their beliefs,” Archbishop Fisher said, “at the hands of another, but no true martyr brings about their own death or that of bystanders.”

“Suicide bombers blaspheme the holy name of God whose image their victims bear and who never condones violence against the innocent.”

Sri Lanka has a history of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians, he said.

“There Christians are friends to their Muslim neighbours—and that, we pray, will continue despite those seeking to manufacture animosity.”

“For Easter is the story of God seeking to halt the endless cycle of human violence and recrimination.”

Crowds gather outside St Mary’s Cathedral for a memorial candlelight vigil following the special Mass of Remembrance for the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Grateful for prayers

Fr Wanigasena thanked all those involved in organising the Mass and prayer vigil, saying it had been important for people to “come together in solidarity” and to pray “for the souls of the departed.”

Following Mass, the congregation filled the forecourt of St Mary’s Cathedral for a candle-lit prayer vigil.

The Sri Lankan Consul-General said he was pleased to see the community turn out “in such numbers” and that Mass and prayer vigil would “give us strength and encourage us to continue in solidarity.”

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Mr Wickrematunga said he had been educated at a Catholic school just a “stone’s throw away” from St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, one of the targets of the terror attacks, and that he had lost friends and neighbours during the tragedy.

“The only way violence can be answered is by respect for humanity and love for each other,” he said.

After ten years of peace in Sri Lanka, he said, the Easter Sunday attacks constituted “one of its worst days since independence.”

The Sri Lankan people would not “resort to violence” in retaliation, he said. “They want to build one Sri Lankan identity.”

“We have faced bigger hurdles before and come through and I’m certain we will get through this equally and absolutely, with compassion and love for all.”

Many faiths – one sorrow

Nirmala Liyanage, a Buddhist from Sydney’s eastern suburbs told The Catholic Weekly she found the Mass and prayer vigil helpful in dealing with the horrific event in her homeland.

“I like this community gathering with everyone supporting us, no matter which religion, people from many different religions came and gave their condolences,” she said.

Mr Joy Perera from Eastwood said the terror attack had been “shocking for everybody, for all Sri Lankans, not only the Catholics. It affects the whole of Sri Lanka.”

He said the Mass and prayer vigil was important for the grieving community.

“You could see the spontaneous response of not only from the Sri Lankans but also the Australian public… it was a very big gathering, the church was full.”

Sandali Alahakone from Cheltenham said she attended the evening to show her support to the Sri Lankan and Catholic community.

“I think it really helped me come to terms with how I was feeling. It’s a nice way to see that the Catholic community come together. It was nice to see that. There were a lot of non-Catholics and non Sri Lankans here as well and that was really reassuring.”