Bombings at three churches and four luxury hotels in the Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticalo killed at least 321 people and injured some 500 others on Easter Sunday. The Washington Post reported Monday that Sri Lankan authorities believe the National Thowheed Jama’ath, a local Islamist militant group, carried out the explosions “likely with overseas assistance.” Noted the Post: “The highly coordinated attacks left the (South Asian) island nation reeling, a crushing blow after almost a decade of peace since the end of its civil war.” The mostly Buddhist nation also is “home to significant Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities,” the Post reported. Among the dead were roughly 40 foreign nationals, including at least four Americans, according to media reports.
How many more times must we rail, in this space, against those who attack people while in worship?
How many more times will we need to express our heartbreak and sorrow over the loss of those who died while in prayer?
We mourned for the eight churchgoers and their senior pastor who were gunned down by a white supremacist at “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015.
We mourned for the 26 members of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, who were fatally shot by a domestic abuser in November 2017.
We mourned for the 11 members of Tree of Life Congregation, a synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, who were massacred by an anti-Semite intent on killing Jews in October 2018.
We mourned for the 50 people who were killed in mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.
Now we mourn for the 321 people senselessly and viciously murdered Sunday by, Sri Lankan authorities say, suicide bombers from a local Islamist militant group.
And we pray for the some 500 others wounded in the coordinated explosions on — and we can hardly believe this as we write it — Easter Sunday.
In Christianity, Easter Sunday is the holiest of days. Christians around the world crowd into churches to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s meant to be a joyous day — one of thankfulness, hope and renewal.
Instead, at least 104 of the faithful were horrifically killed at St. Sebastian’s Roman Catholic Church in Negombo, a predominantly Catholic fishing town in Sri Lanka.
Others were killed at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. Like the Catholic church in Lancaster city that shares its name, the Sri Lankan shrine is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost things.
The Rev. Joy Mariyaratnam was at the altar when what he described as a fireball tore through St. Anthony’s, blowing off its roof and causing debris to fall on the worshipers packed into the church. “As the smoke cleared, he saw a terrifying scene: scores of wounded and dead, crying out in pain and fear,” the Post reported.
Mariyaratnam said: “I was thinking, ‘How could such a thing happen in a place of worship?’ We are still in shock.”
Here, nearly 9,000 miles away, we ask the same question.
It takes a particular evil to plan and execute an attack on people when their hearts, minds and faces are turned to God in prayer. To shatter the stillness in the most horrific way possible, by detonating bombs meant to kill and maim and terrify.
The Rev. Jude Raj Fernando, administrator of St. Anthony’s, told The Independent, a British newspaper, that the shrine — which draws tourists — is “actually a place where everybody comes, regardless of religion, language, caste or creed.”
The dead weren’t just counted at churches, of course. Scores of other people were killed at four hotels targeted by the bombers. Their deaths were no less obscene, no less inexplicable, no less worthy of our sorrow.
Today, the people of Sri Lanka will hold a day of mourning for all of the victims. We will be grieving with them.