By Robin Gomes
India’s Latin-rite Church has pledged its closeness and solidarity with the victims of the terrorist bomb attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday, dedicating Divine Mercy Sunday on April 28 as a day of prayer and solidarity with the Church and people of the island nation.
Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman, the president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), that comprises the country’s Latin-rite bishops, released a statement on Wednesday, inviting CCBI member dioceses and the major superiors of religious congregations to join the initiative.
A string of suicide bomb attacks hit three churches during Easter Sunday morning service in Sri Lanka. Three luxury hotels packed with tourists were also attacked.
Two of the places of worship were Catholic churches: St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. Another blast at the Evangelical Zion Church in the eastern coastal city of Batticaloa also claimed numerous lives.
On Wednesday, 3 days after the attacks in Sri Lanka, the death toll climbed to 359 with more than 500 injured.
Archbishop Ferrao urged that during the Eucharistic celebrations on Divine Mercy Sunday, special prayers of the faithful be added for the departed souls, the injured and the affected families, “who are plunged in grief and pain due to these senseless attacks.”
He particularly urged that the faithful spend some time in “prayer before the Eucharistic Risen Lord, so that the country of Sri Lanka may experience healing and receive the gift of peace.”
Archbishop Ferrao suggested that, wherever possible, “a candle-light procession be organized, to draw the attention of our people to the gruesome tragedy that occurred in our neighbouring country and to invite them to pray with us for peace and harmony throughout the world.”
Asia Churches’ solidarity
The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India have separately sent messages to the Church in Sri Lank expressing their solidarity.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL) is urging the people to stay calm and act with prudence and restraint. It also demanded from the government security for the people and called for an immediate inquiry.
While the government blamed the local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) for the suicide bombings, the Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed responsibility.
Sri Lanka's government has acknowledged it received warnings of impending terrorist attacks on churches. Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena has asked for the resignations of the defence secretary and the national police chief after security forces failed to act on warnings ahead of Easter Sunday.
The number of suspects arrested so far has risen to 60. Further details have emerged regarding the attackers.
Police have been able to identify 8 out of 9 attackers - one of whom was a woman - with no foreigners among them.
Most of the attackers were "well educated" and "middle class", and one of them studied in the UK and in Australia before returning to Sri Lanka.