Tears and prayers for Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka prayer service
A woman lights a candle at an interfaith prayer service at the Blacktown Uniting Church for victims of the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Sydney’s Sri Lankan Catholic community has received an outpouring of love in its moment of devastation, according to its chaplain Father Chaminda Wanigasena.

Together with the rest of the world, Sydney’s Sri Lankans were shocked and grieved by the Easter Sunday attacks in their homeland which left around 800 people dead and wounded.

“Easter Sunday became Good Friday for us,” Father Chaminda told The Catholic Weekly. “We feel shocked. It came like a bolt from the blue.”

Related article: Archbishop invites Sydneysiders to prayers for Sri Lanka

As soon as news broke of the coordinated bombings at three churches, three hotels and other sites including St Anthony’s Catholic Church in Kochchikade, Colombo, and St Sebastian’s Catholic Church in Negombo, his phone began ringing with requests for prayers.

In the aftermath, the former assistant priest at All Saints Church and Christ the King Church in Colombo consoled Sydney families who lost relatives in the blasts and said they were “devastated”.

When Christians normally celebrate Christ’s resurrection, hundreds of people joined him at interfaith memorial services hosted by local Buddhist and Uniting Church communities to mourn their countrymen and women.

Father Chaminda Wanigasena
Fr Chaminda Wanigasena. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“Many [people], including non-Catholics, have approached me to express their solidarity, love and concern for us and all those who have been hurt or injured,” Father Chaminda said.

Father Chaminda said he was grateful for the ‘incredible’ support of Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP who planned to lead a memorial service on Friday 26 April at 5.30pm at St Mary’s Cathedral.

“It shows how much he is close to our people and we really appreciate it,” he said.

Amid the initial shock and grief, Archbishop Fisher joined religious and civic leaders who offered prayers and condolences to the victims and their families and the more than 22,000 Sri Lankan Australian Catholics.

“[This tragedy] is a sad reminder that many of our fellow Catholics around the world are unable to worship in safety and our holiest celebration may be one of great danger for them,” he said in a statement on social media on 21 April.

Related article: Pope leads prayers for Sri Lanka

“My prayers are also with the Sri Lankan-Australian community concerned about the welfare of friends and relatives back home. Our Lady, Queen of Peace, bless and protect the people of Sri Lanka at this difficult time.”

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge also expressed shock at the attacks.

“Attacks such as this are always atrocious but especially when worshippers are the target and it’s the Resurrection they’re celebrating,” he said. “We don’t know who planned the attack or what their motive may have been. But we do know that whoever’s responsible, this attack has something demonic about its planning and execution. We also know that violence like this won’t have the last word.

“That’s what Easter is about.”

NSW Minister for Multiculturalism John Sidoti offered his “heartfelt condolences” to the state’s Sri Lankan and Christian communities. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Sri Lanka and all affected communities in NSW,” he said.

Prayer service for Sri Lanka
Sydney’s Sri Lankan Australian community gathered to pray following deadly attacks in their homeland. PHOTO: G Portelli

“An attack on people praying peacefully in their place of worship is an attack on all of society. More than ever, we need to stand united across cultures and religions to reject hatred, fear and division.”

Two Australians were killed in the blasts which by Tuesday this week had claimed 321 lives and injured around another 500.

Manik Suriaaratchi and her daughter Alexendria lost their lives when a bomb exploded inside a church in Negombo, while two Australian women, one in her 50s and the other in her 20s were injured in the attacks, with one receiving shrapnel wounds and the other a broken leg.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters his “heart was full of grief” over the two deaths.

Mass burial in Sri Lanka
Coffins of victims are carried during a mass burial for victims in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 23, 2019, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island. PHOTO: CNS/Dinuka Liyanawatte, Reuters

“We deeply regret these deaths and we extend our deepest and most sincere sympathies to the family,” he said.

“As the days pass and the injured are treated and some of them succumb to their wounds, we are seeing this massacre go from what was bad, very bad, to much, much worse.”

‘These people are martyrs’

Fr Chaminda said that as the initial shock had passed, he believed it was now time to recall what Jesus preached and lived, which is love for one’s enemies as “the highest form of love”.

“These people are martyrs, and the sacrifice of their own blood will bring healing to our wounded nation and the world,” he said.

“They sacrificed their lives for the sanctification of the world, the Church, and for all of us, and they will be praying especially for the perpetrators and their conversion.

“I’m confident of that.”

Fr Chaminda, who has taught and served in leadership positions in schools in Colombo and Gampaha, said he did not know if former students of his were among the victims.

As his homeland observed a national day of mourning on 23 April he said he could “only pray that they will be safe”.