Sri Lankans living in Italy hold a sign calling for justice for the 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka in St. Peter’s Square April 25. CNS photo/Carol Glatz

Pope Francis calls for truth about 2019 Easter bombings

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • April 27, 2022

VATICAN CITY -- Three years after multiple bombings killed more than 260 people on Easter and lingering questions remain about those behind the attacks, Pope Francis appealed to Sri Lankan authorities to shed light on what happened.

“Please, for the love of justice, for the love of your people,” he urged authorities, “clarify once and for all who was responsible for these events. It will bring peace to your conscience and the country.”

“Let us pray today for all victims of violence and war, especially terrorism,” he said after greeting about 3,500 Sri Lankans who gathered for Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, commemorating the 2019 Easter attack.

A coordinated series of suicide bomb attacks April 21, 2019, targeted three hotels, two Catholic churches and one Protestant church as people celebrated Easter services. Officials said 269 people were killed and at least another 500 people were injured. The majority of the dead were Sri Lankans, with at least 45 foreigners among those killed.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka, concelebrated the Mass with about 10 bishops from Sri Lanka. A statue of Jesus, spattered with the blood of parishioners at one of the attacks, was placed near the altar.

In attendance were survivors and family members of victims of the bombings, representatives of the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities, and thousands of Sri Lankans who live in Rome and other parts of Italy.

After Mass, Pope Francis entered the basilica, greeting and blessing visitors and survivors, many of them in wheelchairs or blind from shrapnel.

Gathering everyone together with the Pope was part of just a number of high-profile efforts to “tell the world, ‘Give us justice,’ because we don’t know who did this or why,” Ranjith told reporters outside the basilica after the Mass.

“We want a transparent investigation” and the assistance of the international community in the quest for answers, he said, citing allegations the terrorists had the support of former government leaders and authorities.

The two Catholic churches that were targeted — St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade and St. Sebastian’s Church in the suburb of Negombo — were in the cardinal’s archdiocese. The latter affected more than 219 people, 113 of whom died.

Prasanna Fernando showed reporters the scars and indentations left on his head as a result of the shrapnel and surgery from the blast at St. Sebastian’s. His right arm was paralyzed from multiple heart attacks, and his wife spoke for him through an interpreter.

They said “they can’t imagine that this happened inside a church, but they have not lost their faith, and this incident brought them closer to God,” said the interpreter, a medical doctor who traveled with the survivors.

Hasaru Jayakody, 19, survived his shrapnel injuries, but his 49-year-old mother did not. He said the blast was so strong it made him feel numb. It was only when he looked at his shirt and saw “blood was spewing out that I started to panic, and my immediate instinct was to survive, so I left the church leaving my mom behind.”

Despite three years having passed, it all “feels the same,” he said. “You can’t move on. Something feels incomplete because why did they die? Why did all of this happen?”

Sri Lankan government officials blamed the attacks on a local militant group allegedly affiliated with Islamic State militants. A trial of two dozen people accused of plotting the attacks is ongoing, as part of a promised probe into the tragedy.

Critics, however, have faulted the current presidential administration for not filing charges against former President Maithripala Sirisena, who was accused of not acting on intelligence reports warning of the planned bombings weeks before they happened. Critics also blame police and intelligence units for failing to prevent the bombings, despite advanced warnings.

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