By Robin Gomes
The world was shocked and outraged to hear about a string of coordinated suicide bomb attacks on 3 churches and 3 hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the holiest day of Christians.
The bombings, claimed by the so-called Islamic State, killed more than 250 people and injured some 500.
One of the targets of the April 21 carnage was the Catholic St. Anthony’s Shrine Kochikade, in the capital Colombo.
Amadeo Lomonaco of Vatican News visited the popular shrine ahead of the nation marking a month since the attacks. He spoke to the Rector of St. Anthony’s Shrine, Father Jude Raj, who had a narrow escape that fateful day during the 8:45 morning Mass on Easter Sunday.
God of love, not revenge
The priest said they never gave up their faith and continue to pray and celebrate Mass inside the shrine saying, “Our God is not a god of revenge. He is the God of love.”
He recalled the words of Jesus as he was dying on the cross – “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He said Sri Lanka’s Catholics have the same sentiments, saying they have to show to the world that they are the followers of Jesus who asked his disciples to love one another as He loved them.
Speaking about the message of Christians to those who have committed the crime, Fr. Raj said that they extend their hands out to the terrorists and pray for them and for their repentance so that the Lord may touch their lives and hearts and that they may come back and to the God of love and mercy.
Fr. Raj said that the entire Sri Lankan community has come together, irrespective of religion, caste and language. Catholics are showing the power of prayer, especially the rosary and the Mass, and they don’t need any other weapon.
Solidarity of Pope, Universal Church
The Rector of St. Anthony’s Shrine said that in their tragedy, they experience the closeness of Pope Francis and the Universal Church.
St. Anthony’s Shrine maintains a soup kitchen that feeds some 200 people daily, and it also has also a museum and relics. The shrine also maintains a close link with Sri Lanka’s Catholic community of Italy that is home to the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua where the 13th-century saint breathed his last.
Fr. Raj pointed out that Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, is scheduled to visit the shrine on Wednesday. He said, all these show that Catholics in Sri Lanka have not been abandoned by the Universal Church that is praying for them. Many dioceses across the world have also expressed their closeness with Sri Lankans.