CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 7 September 2019

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Slow post-terror healing in Sri Lanka

Nilushan Prasad Fernando, a government school teacher in Sri Lanka, observes that Catholics are again celebrating feast days and there are Sunday school sessions for children.
 
But, in the wake of the tragic April 21, Easter Sunday bombings—in which group of radicals affiliated with the so-called Islamic State bombed three churches and three luxury hotels, killing 253 people and injuring more than 500—people have been banned from taking bags to church events and have been warned not to congregate in groups after Masses.
 
Large church gatherings, such as processions, are still not being held.
 
Army and police personnel stand guard at every church and school entrance.
 
“The annual feast (at) St. Anthony’s church at Weliweriya in Gampaha, (was celebrated) in a simple way and the procession was cancelled,” Fernando said.
 
To make planting bombs more difficult, school children and Sunday school participants have been asked to replace their usual bags and satchels with small, transparent ones.
 
“Priests in many parishes have scaled back various church activities in the wake of the terror attacks,” Fernando said.
 
Those who were killed in the Easter Sunday attacks were remembered at various modest feast day celebrations and there were expressions of hope for the recovery of those who were injured, Fernando said.
 
Church services in the country on weekdays have also restarted with their own security arrangements in place and the help of parish volunteers.
 
Private Catholic schools and government-run schools closed after the Easter bombings have all reopened. However, Fernando said that students are subjected to body searches.
 
Father Luckston de Silva, media spokesperson for the Diocese of Mannar in Northern Province, said that the feast ofg Our Lady of Madhu would be held as usual on July 2.
 
“Owing to the prevailing situation in the country, the security will be tightened and the faithful who come to the shrine should extend their support to maintain security,” Father de Silva said. 
 
People’s fears that there might be more terrorist attacks have been heightened by new intelligence agency reports that Sri Lanka and India remain under threat with Islamic State turning its attention to the Indian Ocean region in the wake of losses across Syria and Iraq.
 
In Sri Lanka, an army and police presence is still highly visible in major cities and towns as well as some villages, as security forces continue daily search operations.
 
The president, Maithripala Sirisena, told parliament that most of the suspects with links to terror groups had been arrested. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said that it was a grave crime to kill innocent people.
 
“The youth who were involved in exploding the bombs in our churches on Easter Sunday did so to manifest their political line of thinking to the world,” the cardinal at the consecration of a new church in the port city of Negombo.
 
And at another event, Cardinal Ranjith stressed that the nation needs leaders who will safeguard people’s rights.
 
“There should be a leadership that will work for the country rather than themselves,” he said, adding, “A leader with a backbone who is not afraid to punish wrongdoers.”
 
Catholic priests filed a petition with Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court targeting the government for failing to act on warnings that could potentially have prevented the Easter Sunday bombings.
 
The priests have accused 13 public officials, including prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, of dereliction of duty and violating fundamental human rights, notably the right of Catholics to freely practice their religion.
 
The Sri Lankan government has initiated several investigations into the Easter Sunday blasts. A Presidential Commission has recommended that criminal and disciplinary action be taken against senior police officials who failed to prevent the attacks.
 
Sirisena further extended a state of emergency on June 21 for another month. UCAN

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