Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Sri Lankan Church seeks canonization for Easter attack victims

News - Archdiocese of Colombo

Sri Lankan Catholic Church has moved in for canonization of hundreds of faithful killed in the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019.

A petition seeking canonization for the slain Catholics will be submitted to the Vatican on April 21, exactly five years after the deadly terror attack, church officials say.

"It is expected that a petition will be submitted on April 21st with the signatures of all the faithful to the Vatican to begin the canonization process," said Oblate priest Father Rohan Silva from Archdioceses of Colombo in the national capital.

The date is significant as it falls on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, Silva said.

Silva, the chairman of the Colombo-based Center for Society and Religion (CSR), earlier filed a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Commission for justice for the victims of Easter Sunday victims.

Sri Lankan Church wants those slain Catholics to be declared “martyrs of faith,” he said.

"They all died for their faith, and there are many martyrs in the church who also died for their faith in God. They are accepted as martyrs, regarded as heroes of the faith,” Silva added.

Suicide bombers allegedly linked to local extremist outfit, National Thowheed Jamath, carried out coordinated attacks on April 21, 2019, targeting three churches and three luxury hotels.

The terror attack left 279 people including 37 foreigners dead and scores injured. Most of the victims were Catholics who flocked to churches to attend Easter Sunday Mass.

Sri Lankan Church has been vocal for justice for the victims and repeatedly dismissed government inquiry reports as biased and untrue, and demanded an impartial international probe to find the truth and to bring to the book the masterminds.

While the church pursues canonization for the Catholic victims, the call for justice will continue, Silva said.

"Justice has not yet been done. We will continue our quest for justice until they reveal the culprits behind the attacks," he added.

Sri Lankan authorities came under renewed pressure to reveal the truth behind the terror attack following the release of a documentary by British broadcaster Channel Four on Sept. 4 last year.

The documentary supported a claim by Sri Lankan Church officials that senior government officials played a crucial role in engineering the deadly terrorist attacks on 2019 Easter Sunday.

The documentary was based on the testimony of a whistleblower, who was attached to a Sri Lankan paramilitary group.

He alleged senior officials close to the politically powerful Rajapaksa family facilitated the simultaneous bombings to create a sense of insecurity in the country and return to power on the plank of national security.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former defense minister and brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, announced his presidential candidacy days after the attack.

He became the president after winning the national election in 2020. He was forced to resign and go into exile in July 2022 following months of nationwide protests over the worst economic crisis in the island nation.  

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has been highly critical of the government’s handling of the probe and accused the current administration of President Ranil Wickremesinghe of protecting the masterminds.

During a Mass at St. Sebastian’s Church in Kandana on Jan. 21, Ranjith also hinted at pushing for canonization of Catholics killed in the attack.

"Those who died in churches on April 21, 2019, sacrificed their lives for what they believed. They came to church on that day because they believed in Christ. The first step towards this move will be taken on April 21 this year," Ranjith said.

The family members of the victims have welcomed the church’s move for canonization and reiterated the call for justice.

Sujeewa Anton, a Sunday school teacher who attended Easter Sunday Mass at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, sustained injuries in his left leg when the blast shattered the church’s walls and the rooftop. He recovered after spending two weeks in hospital.

His aunt who was in the same church with her two children was badly hurt and died in a hospital. Her children survived the attack.

“Easter Sunday attack victims are true martyrs for their faith, and they truly sacrificed their lives for the love of Christ," said Anton.

Rights activist Ruwani Fernando says people no longer trust what the government propagates.

Most people believe the suicide bombing was planned to ensure the return of the Rajapaksa family to power, she said.

“Our faithful pray for the martyrs and to uncover the invisible force that manipulated the local group," added Fernando, a Catholic.