CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 14 September 2019

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Vatican envoy visits Sri Lanka after attacks

COLOMBO (UCAN): Fernando Cardinal Filoni, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, made an unheralded visit to Sri Lanka to show solidarity with Catholics still reeling from the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that claimed over 250 lives and injured more than 400.
 
“What happened on Easter Sunday was not only an act against a few people or a religion, it was an act against the people of Sri Lanka,” Cardinal Filoni said on May 22, as he condemned the April 21 bombings by local extremists affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) on a handful of luxury hotels and churches in the capital, Colombo, and Negombo. 
 
He described it as an attack on the nation as a whole, rather than being directed at Christians alone.
 
The cardinal had flown to Colombo after his trip to Thailand to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Church’s mission to Siam, during which he highlighted the challenges evangelisation efforts face across Asia (Sunday Examiner, May 26).  
 
While visiting the national shrine of St. Anthony at Kochchikade in Colombo, he spoke to some of the bereaved family members from the Easter attacks.
 
“I am here first of all to bring you all closer to Pope Francis,” he said at the place where the first of the coordinated blasts took place. It is now being reconstructed with the assistance of the Sri Lankan Navy.
 
At St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, which suffered the heaviest casualties, he took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new cemetery chapel.
 
The cardinal also joined a foundation stone laying event for a museum where relics of St. Anthony will be placed. The building will include a soup kitchen that will provide free meals to nearly 200 people of all faiths on a daily basis.
 
The Sri Lanka Ports Authority, which runs the harbour, donated the land. The navy will handle its construction.
 
He told a group of workers from the navy that, “your hands are building a mission where people praise God” and described the new church they were building as “a house of hope for all religions.”
 
Referring to St. Anthony’s shrine, Cardinal Filoni said, “(It) was not only a shrine for Catholics, but for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. It is like a house for this big family of Sri Lanka.”
 
He continued, “And we wish that this will remain in the future a home for all. A house without doors, without windows—open. It is open to everybody who would like to come here to find the open arms of Jesus, or the blessing of St. Anthony and a moment of peace for their soul, their mind, their problems, their defeats.” 
 
The cardinal said the shrine in the heart of the capital would forever be seen as a house of martyrs. “We believe that those who passed away are martyrs of their faith,” he said.
Cardinal Filoni said it is time for people of all faiths to work together to make Sri Lanka stronger and more united.
 
Cardinal Filoni’s itinerary included stops at all three major cities targeted by the terrorists, including Batticaloa on the eastern side of the island nation, and meetings with various priests and civil and religious personalities.
 
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith joined Cardinal Filoni during his trip, as did Bishop Anton Jayakody, Bishop Maxwell Frenville Silva, auxiliary bishops, priests, and government ministers.
 
Cardinal Filoni, an expert in Chinese affairs and the Middle East, was as the Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka from 1981 until 1983.

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