Churches in Sri Lanka Hold First Sunday Masses Since Easter Bombings

Military and police guarded the churches

The Sri Lankan Catholic churches have held their first Sunday mass since the April 21 Easter suicide bombings. More than 250 individuals were killed in the carnage. Sunday services were held in multiple places, including Negombo and Colombo, the country’s capital. Local Police was on guard at all entrances to Colombo’s St. Lucia’s Cathedral, one of the largest churches in the island nation. Worshippers crowded the church, including a few who have lost their relatives in the bombings. The terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) took responsibility for the killings.

Soldiers carrying automatic assault rifles guarded the capital’s St. Theresa Church. Congregation members were frisked for explosives. Other than the military, heavily armed Sri Lankan police forces patrolled streets which led to churches. Security was bolstered outside the church compounds. Everyone who entered was needed to show identity cards. Volunteers were asked to remain at church gates to identify all parishioners and point out to the police any suspicious individuals. Parking was prohibited near churches and worshippers were requested to carry minimum baggage.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks. The massacre, however, was believed to have been executed by National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), a local extremist group. The attack led to the cancellation of regular services in Catholic churches all over the country. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, announced on May 9 that mass would commence from May 12 in his diocese. The cardinal had conducted private Sunday services for the last two weeks post the attacks and were broadcast live on Sri Lankan television. He also held a special mass solely for the St. Lucia Cathedral attack victims on May 11. The congregation saw participation from the survivors and the relatives of victims of Easter Sunday attacks. Most churches in Colombo had resumed services from the first week of May, under tight security cover provided by local police. Catholic private schools, which were closed due to Easter holidays are scheduled to reopen on May 14. All state administered schools, numbering about 10,000, restarted their academic activities in the first week of May after armed guards were deployed. Attendance, however, continued to be low despite the authorities taking a slew of security measures, such as parking restrictions close to schools. Parents were requested to substitute school bags with clear plastic sacks.

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