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Sri Lankan Christians praying at a barricade near St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 28, 2019. Sri Lankan Christians praying at a barricade near St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 28, 2019.   (AFP or licensors)

Sunday Masses in Sri Lanka cancelled for fear of terror attacks

As fear of terror attacks kept churches across Sri Lanka closed on Sunday, Catholics followed a Holy Mass by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith broadcast live on television and radio.

By Robin Gomes

Fears of suicide bomb attacks kept Christians away from Masses and celebrations on Sunday in Sri Lanka. The Catholic Church has suspended Masses and Sunday schools until security improves after terror the terror attacks on churches and upscale hotels on Easter Sunday.  

A week after the Easter Sunday suicide bombings killed over 250 people in 3 churches and 3 luxury hotels, Catholics from their homes followed a live broadcast of a Mass on television and the radio celebrated by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo.

"This is a time our hearts are tested by the great destruction that took place last Sunday," Card. Ranjith said in his homily delivered before members of the clergy and the country's leaders in a small chapel in the capital. "This is a time questions such as, 'does God truly love us, does he have compassion toward us', can arise in human hearts," he said.

Sri Lankan security officials have warned that by Islamic State group-linked militants behind the April 21 suicide bombings are planning attacks and could be dressed in uniform.

The gates of churches have been closed with padlocks since the attacks. All schools in the country also remain closed.

Military checkpoints and operations have become very common in most villages. Public gatherings and religious services have been cancelled. Tough security measures have been adopted by public and private institutions, with security officers checking bags and vehicles. 

President Maithripala Sirisena has banned all kinds of face coverings in public places as a security measure. 

Christians and Muslims fear they may be targeted after the military warned there could be more attacks on religious centres.

In the eastern district of Ampara, where a gunfight and explosions left 15 people dead following a police raid on Friday, soldiers guarded St. Mary Magdalen's Anglican Church.  A sign on the gate said the church and the school would be closed until May 6. A nearby mosque also had soldiers stationed outside.

"No one has the right to kill innocent people,” Card. Ranjith said in his homily. “Stop these killings in the name of God. Human life is the most beautiful and all of us are unique,” he urged.

"God has created man for others and every person is a reflection of God, but these incidents are insults to humanity. We pray for peace and coexistence and understanding each other without division."

Many Sri Lankans believe a deep rift between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has undermined national security.  

The Archbishop of Colombo, whose 2 churches have been hit, criticized Sri Lanka’s government for failing to act on intelligence reports warning of terrorism.  The cardinal criticized the bickering at the top levels of government. He said the government's behaviour was absolutely unacceptable and he would have called off Church services if he had been warned in advance.

“At a time when the whole country has been affected by a major catastrophe, politicians should stop finding fault with each other."  "Instead,” he said, “they must have broad discussions on what steps needed to be taken to solve this and take this country out of this crisis.”

Card. Ranjith complained that security had not been sufficiently stepped up around churches. “We are not satisfied with the security arrangements and urge authorities to ensure our safety," he told reporters.

Sri Lankan police are trying to track down 140 people believed to be linked to the Islamic State.

29 April 2019, 17:10