Christians in Sri Lanka are still in a state of shock

“THE ATTACKS have reminded many people of the time when the state of emergency was declared during the civil war. The general public and especially all of the Christians in Sri Lanka are still in a state of shock.” This was the assessment by Veronique Vogel, who oversees projects in Sri Lanka for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). An ACN delegation visited the country one month after the Easter Sunday terror attacks that killed more than 250 people and wounded 500. Targets for the suicide bombers included two Catholic churches—St. Sebastian’s in Negombo and St. Anthony Shrine in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.

Young parishioners inside St. Anthony Shrine Church

Ms. Vogel reported: “The security measures throughout Sri Lanka were very strict during our visit; security forces and the military were everywhere. But fear persists, particularly among the Christian population. Everyone is well aware of the fact that more assassins were involved on Easter Sunday than were identified and arrested. Therefore, everyone knows that somewhere out there extremely dangerous people are running around who could attack again at any time.”

The archbishop of the diocese of Colombo, Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, appealed to the public to remain calm and refrain from carrying out acts of revenge. “I got the sense that the Christians were thankful for the words of their archbishop and were taking them to heart,” said Vogel.

She explained that the ACN delegation came to Sri Lanka “so that we could see for ourselves the state the Catholic parishes and to assure them of our solidarity. After all, the terrorist attacks were specifically targeted at Christians,” said Vogel, adding that “it is important to provide ACN donors with first-hand information about the situation—to ensure that we don’t forget to pray for Sri Lanka and we can give the country our support.”

Inside St. Sebastian Church

Public Masses resumed May 21, but Vogel said that many Christians are severely traumatized and reluctant to go inside a church. Said Vogel: “Many told me that they are afraid to enter a church at the moment or feel fear when they hear the bells ring.” On the other hand, Vogel said that many faithful who had been injured or who lost loved ones in the bombings, also reported that their faith had gotten stronger, along with their will to live.

Vogel made special mention of Franciscan friars, who, based right across the street from St. Sebastian’s, rushed into the devastated church immediately after the bombing to care for the wounded and recover the dead. “Ihey are models of lived charity and have not let terrorism and violence detract them from their faith and their willingness to help others,” said Vogel.

In the last 15 years, ACN has invested more than $9M in projects for Sri Lanka. Projects have included for the construction of churches and Church buildings; Mass stipends for priests, theological training and to ensure the local availability of Christian literature. In the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings, ACN is even more strongly committed to strengthening long-term pastoral aid in the country to help heal wounds and bring back hope and confidence to the parishes.

—Matthias Böhnke