.By Linda Bordoni
The Easter bombing attacks in Sri Lanka that left 257 people dead and razed churches and hotels to the ground also caused much collateral damage shattering a difficult peace and reconciliation process after a long civil war against the separatist Tamil Tigers.
Fear has created renewed divides between members of different ethnic and religious communities that make up the population. Above all, daily life has become harder for ordinary Muslims who continue to suffer attacks and discrimination.
Caritas Sri Lanka is in the forefront of the healing and reconciliation process, together with religious representatives of different faiths and civil society leaders.
Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke, National Director of Caritas Sri Lanka, told Linda Bordoni that people were so shocked and traumatized by the bombings, an urgent need arose immediately for programmes to address their needs:
Fr Mahendra explained that Caritas developed programmes to address psycho-social and legal needs immediately after the bombings. These, he said, were shared with other organizations working to help the population, with the Caritas Provincial network and with the country’s diocesan centers.
He said Caritas has also found support in the government that is doing its best to tackle a number of questions.
The fact, he said, that the bombings took place in the Churches, has directly involved the pastors to care for their sheep. However, he added, the government is taking care of the material reconstruction of church buildings “and we are very thankful for this”.
The, government, Fr Mahendra said, has also come forward to help the families of the victims financially.
“It is not the property that we lost, but the lives we lost, and the fear that was created with this terror attack”, he said.
He said that people are deeply traumatized: “there is this fear psychosis, the scar that has got into the human psyche” which has led to an urgent need to work for a peaceful environment for all the individuals of our country.
The attacks have shattered the nation’s reconciliation process
Fr Mahendra said the attacks have had a tremendously damaging effect on the country’s peace process following the 30-year conflict that ended 10 years ago.
“We were just about to celebrate the anniversary of the peace that was brought after the conflict and this happened,” he said.
The attacks, he continued, have devastated peace initiatives and reconciliation programmes. And Caritas, he said, is deeply involved in bridge building, which “is now a daunting task.”
“Over the years we have been involved in peace programmes, reconciliation, coexistence programmes… and now we see suspicion and brothers of ours who have been pushed away,” he said.
Fr Mahendra said it will take time to build trust.
“Because we are a tiny nation, struggling with economic issues, with political and social issues, our hopes were shattered with this attack” he said.
The need for prophetic leadership
Fr Mahendra said his hope is that “we will get good leaders” who will be able to give us the right guidance.
He expressed his hope for political leaders with genuine perspectives, and for religious leaders because, he said, “religion must not be a divisive factor, it must be a uniting factor.”
“I am happy that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was able to give that leadership. People are looking up to him and we are very proud that he is a Catholic shepherd and we need to sustain and cooperate with him,” he said.
Fr Mahendra said he prays that political leaders, leaders of civil society, of NGOs and like-minded organizations will come forward and will assist the peace process so that it may proceed.
He also expressed his wish that Sri Lanka not be forgotten by the media and by the international community: “If the international community can come to Sri Lanka and support us with peace initiatives, we will find a way forward”.