Demonstrators light candles during a silent protest to pay respect to the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka Demonstrators light candles during a silent protest to pay respect to the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka  (AFP or licensors)

Cardinal Ranjith calls for justice and change in Sri Lanka

As the 269 victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka are commemorated during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday, the Archbishop of Colombo talks about the quest for truth and justice, and about a State that continues to fail its people.

By Linda Bordoni

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, is in Rome to mark the anniversary of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka.

Pope Francis is meeting participants in St. Peter's Basilica after a Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter's Basilica. The event comes a few days after a Mass celebrated by the Sri Lankan Cardinal on 21 April, during which delivered a hard-hitting speech blaming the country's President and his government for failing to keep their pledge to grant justice to the victims and cleanse the country of “all elements of terror”. 

Three years from the coordinated bombings that wrought death, injury and destruction, mostly amongst the Christian community, investigations have proved insufficient and recommendations issued by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry have not been implemented. Furthermore, the government, it is alleged, is covering up the truth in order to hide its own involvement.

The country’s top Catholic leader has tirelessly pushed for truth, calling for accountability and transparency. Together with other faith leaders of the island nation, he has given voice to the people’s growing anger and dissent as they suffer one of the worst economic crises the country has ever seen.

Speaking to Vatican Radio just before the Mass in the Vatican on 25 April, he explained that the country’s current rulers are accused of corruption and mismanagement that have brought about the spiralling crisis, and are facing serious accusations they not only have not sought justice for the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in which 269 people were killed and more than 500 were injured, but have sought to bury evidence the attacks may have been carried out for political aims to favour their own re-election.

Listen to the interview with Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith

Cardinal Ranjith explained that the prevailing narrative led most people to believe that those attacks were carried out in an atmosphere of Islamic fanaticism, but, he said “elements of testimony emerged that these attacks had something more than just an Islamic connotation.”

The Cardinal went on to say that there is emerging evidence to the effect that the government, and especially the intelligence wing of the military, had contacts with the terrorists who carried out the attacks.

Notwithstanding insistent requests that those contacts be investigated, he added, nothing has happened.

The shadow of a plot

He listed a number of reasons that point to the involvement of the government and to something more than “simply an Islamic attack” that have raised suspicions.

Cardinal Ranjith added that “after the Presidential Commission of Inquiry issued its report, the present government hesitated to carry out the recommendations or chose to carry out only those recommendations that refer to the Islamic community and tried to hide some of the recommendations, which would, if they are further investigated, reveal other angles of these attacks.”

“The people of Sri Lanka, and especially the Catholic community, has felt defrauded by the present regime.”

Therefore, Cardinal Ranjith continued, “we are highly suspicious of these things and we want further investigations to be done.” Until then, the people who are injured and who have lost their loved ones will not get justice.

A demonstration in remembrance of the victims
A demonstration in remembrance of the victims

A failed State

This serious situation of suspicion and lack of trust in the government is currently compounded by the socio-economic crisis that is triggering protests and even violence.

The Cardinal looked back at years of “inefficient management of the country, of its economy, and wrong policy decisions that have led to a total collapse of the national economy.”

“Right now in Sri Lanka,” he said, “people are not able to make ends meet (…) because of lack of employment, a lack of income, the rising prices of items and sometimes scarcity of items, like the difficulty in obtaining fuel for the maintenance of life, as well as the lack of electricity, lack of gas, various other items for daily sustenance.”

All this, he said, has led to a general feeling of total dissatisfaction and the realization that the country has collapsed and it is a failed state.

“The people want the government to leave and allow either an election to take place so that a new government can be appointed, or an interim arrangement to be made, as it has been the demand of the Venerable Chief Monks in Sri Lanka.”

Cardinal Ranjith went on to illustrate a desperate situation caused by the total breakdown of trust in the entire political system, including the opposition.

Protest march against the government
Protest march against the government

Interreligious trust and collaboration

The country’s main religious leaders have sought to into this vacuum.

“We hope,” he continued, “ that we will be able to sustain this country and make it work once again. So it has become the role of the religious leaders to assist the people to get out of this situation.”

“Along with the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, we Christians can work together and thinking about the country as a whole, not just only our people. We can try to work out a solution to this present crisis," he said.

Appeal to the international community

The Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo concluded by mentioning the appeal he has issued to the International Community “to put pressure on our government, not to make castles in the air without any reality and be out of touch with the common life of our people.”

The government, he said, should realize it has failed in its efforts to bring prosperity and happiness to our people. It has also failed to ensure justice to many communities that have been affected by all kinds of sad situations in the past.

“We want the international community to insist that, before giving any aid to Sri Lanka, that the government realize that they have to change the way things have been done.”

Protesters condemn a police shooting incident during demonstrations against the government
Protesters condemn a police shooting incident during demonstrations against the government
25 April 2022, 08:00