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Prayers and solidarity following deadly Easter attacks in Sri Lanka

VATICAN CITY (CNS): On Easter Monday, Pope Francis led thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square in praying for the hundreds of people who died or were injured in bomb blasts at churches and hotels in three cities on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. 
The violence was the deadliest the country has seen since a 26-year civil war ended in 2009.
The pope told the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Regina Coeli prayer, “I want to again express my spiritual and paternal closeness to the people of Sri Lanka.”
Two Catholic churches—St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo—as well as an evangelical church in Batticaloa were targeted during Easter services. The Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo also were attacked.
During his Easter Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis expressed his “loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence.”
He said, “I entrust to the Lord all those who were tragically killed and pray for the injured and all those who are suffering as a result of this dramatic event.” 
He said, “I pray for the numerous victims and injured and I ask everyone not to hesitate to offer this dear nation all the necessary help. I also hope that everyone will condemn these terrorist acts, inhuman acts, that are never justifiable.”
Bishops’ conferences around the world, including those in the United States, Australia, Pakistan and Indonesia, also extended their sympathy.
As at April 24, CNN quoted Lanka’s police as saying that the death toll had soared to 359, with over 500 people injured. Media also reported that authorities had detailed warnings of impending attacks from intelligence agencies as early as April 4.
The BBC quoted Rauff Hakeem, the minister for town planning, as calling the attacks a “colossal failure of intelligence.” He said, “It is shameful for all of us. We are all ashamed of this.” 
The Sri Lankan government blamed little-known Islamic group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, for the suicide bombings. Authorities named the group on April 22 and said 24 people had been arrested.
“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Rajitha Senaratne, the health minister, said on April 22. “There was an international network, without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”
The majority of those killed and injured are believed to be Sri Lankan nationals. The government said the dead included at least 39 foreign nationals from the United States, United Kingdom, India, China, Japan, Australia, Turkey, Australia and other European countries.
Photos from the church bombings showed blood-spattered walls, broken glass and statues knocked on their sides.
Malcom Cardinal Ranjith of Colombo visited St. Sebastian’s Church to witness the recovery efforts of security forces, the BBC reported. Briefing reporters afterward, he condemned the violence “that has caused so much death and suffering to the people.”
The cardinal said, “It’s a very, very sad day for all of us. I wish to, therefore, express my deepest sympathy to all those innocent families that have lost someone, and also to those who have been injured and rendered destitute.”
The cardinal also called on the government to investigate the bombings as thoroughly as possible and to punish the perpetrators “mercilessly.”
Christians make up about six per cent or about 1.5 million, of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, according to the country’s 2012 census. About 85 per cent of Christians are Catholic The majority of the population, about 70.2 per cent, are Buddhist, while Muslims make up 9.6 per cent and Hindus 12.6 per cent of the population. 

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