At 9:51 a.m. Indian Standard Time on April 21, simultaneous explosions were reported at three churches and two hotels in the island nation of Sri Lanka. Within an hour, a total of eight explosions had rocked the nation on Easter morning. The death toll continued to rise throughout the coming days, from 10 immediately being reported dead to now, with approximately 253 dead, according to Catholic News Service, and many more wounded. What was supposed to be a joyous time for Catholics was instead filled with fear and mourning. Curfews were enacted, leaves were canceled for police and military personal, and Easter Mass was canceled in the capital district of Colombo.
In the wake of the attacks, Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, canceled all April 28 Masses, saying “We don’t want repetitions.”
Sri Lanka is slightly smaller than Indiana in land mass, but has more than three times the population. Catholics are a minority on the island, making up 6 percent of the population.
At 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the day of the attacks, John Pratt, director of Youth Ministry for the diocese, was praying evening prayer with St. Pius X Parish, Granger, when he noticed a group off to the side.
“I wanted to be sure they were welcomed. I didn’t quite know who they were, and I also hadn’t heard the news about the attacks in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Members of the Islamic Society of Michiana, including Imam Mohammad Sirajuddin, had come to offer their condolences and prayers, and to present a statement.
“Today’s savage series of attacks on Christian worshipers celebrating Easter Sunday and hotels in Sri Lanka that reportedly left more than 200 dead and 450 injured are outrageous and despicable,” the statement read. “Michiana Muslims, along with American Muslims, stand with our fellow citizens of all faiths in condemning such acts of violence wherever they take place and whomever they target. May God heal those injured, comfort the loved ones of those killed, and bring those responsible for this crime to justice. Today, we join people around the world in saying, ‘Pray for Sri Lanka.’”
Pratt said it was refreshing to hear members of an Islamic organization condemn such attacks, “and to have them do it even before I had heard of them was very proactive on their part.”
Having world events provoke local reconciliation was something that he hadn’t often seen, he said. “That was particularly powerful … to see their efforts to bring about peace and unity within our community was touching.”
For him, this was a moment of clarity, showing how, by the grace of God, people of different faiths can come together in unity. “Reconciliation and unity are not easy,” Pratt added. “The world often tells us it’s impossible and not worth fighting for, but with God’s grace it is possible, and it can completely transform our communities and societies.
What can Catholics do in the wake of attacks on their faith taking place across the globe?
“Being able to learn from those who the world tells you are ‘other’” is key, commented Pratt. Msgr. William Schooler of St. Pius X added: “Like Christians in Sri Lanka, Muslims are a minority in our country. I also know that many of our Muslim brothers and sisters have become very worried since the attacks on the Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In celebrating the central mysteries of our faith, we become more aware that there is no room for prejudice and hatred of any kind.”
Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek. Instead of responding with hatred, Pratt said that “forgiveness and kindness are universal languages that speak to everyone, and so moving forward, when talking to those of other creeds and faith … I’ll have a starting-off point that many people don’t have, like a concrete act of kindness going above and beyond what is the norm … building unity between those who might have different beliefs.”
Pope Francis offered his prayers during his Easter “urbi et orbi” address, saying: “I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished, and I pray for the injured and all those who suffer as a result of this tragic event.”
Several Sri Lankan natives currently bless the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend with their priestly service. Among them, Father Tyrell Alles, St. Peter Parish, and Father Polycarp Fernando, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, both in Fort Wayne, prayed for their country and the victims of the bombings with their parishioners the weekend of April 27-28.
“This Divine Mercy Sunday, we are praying especially for those Catholics who are affected by that may live by that peace,” Father Fernando, said noting the cancellation of all Masses except one televised Mass celebrated by Cardinal Ranjith on Sunday. He asked for the prayers of parishioners, “that peace might reign” in the terrorized nation, “the peace that comes from God, so that we may live in harmony and in peace, according to the designs of God.”
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