Defiant Sri Lankan Catholics return to Mass 'in sad but happy moment'
Catholics in Sri Lanka yesterday held regular Sunday Masses for the first time since Easter Sunday's suicide bombings, claimed by Isil, that killed 158 people and injured 500.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, who closed all churches for the past three weeks due to security threats, celebrated Mass at St Theresa's Church in the heart of Colombo as armed military and Special Forces squads stood guard.
Everyone entering was searched, and no vehicles were allowed in the car park.
Church regulars were stationed at the gates of all Colombo churches to identify parishioners and look out for suspicious individuals.
Seven suicide bombers carrying backpacks with explosives struck two Catholic churches and one Protestant church, as well as three luxury hotels, on Easter Sunday last month.
Some churches outside Colombo resumed regular services last week under tight security provided by the police and military.
For many Catholics in Sri Lanka, the opening of church doors yesterday was an emotional moment.
One parishioner who attended the packed service at St Theresa's said: "The priest started crying, and there wasn't a dry eye through the entire service.
"It was a sad but happy moment. It was like coming back home."
At St Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya, where a bomber killed more than 100 people, including children, the first Sunday Mass since the attacks was a "sombre one", said parishioners.
It was held with around 1,000 worshippers in the Sunday school premises next to the bombed church which is still undergoing renovation.
"We lost a lot of lives, but we should not lose hope," said the chief priest, Fr Shiral Fonseka, in his sermon.
Survivors of the attacks, including many still recovering from injuries, attended the Mass at St Sebastian's. At one point, the entire congregation was in tears as the priest prayed for the lives lost, the children orphaned and the widows and parents left behind.
"We thought we had run out of tears, but we cried again today," said Luxman Perera, the church carpenter, who witnessed the bomber detonating himself.
"It was very difficult to come back," said the husband of a 34-year-old woman killed on Easter Sunday.
"Bringing my eight-year-old daughter back to the place where she lost her mother was especially difficult, but I want to teach her that nothing can keep us from coming back. Even if they bomb us to death, we will keep coming back to the Lord."
All Catholic schools, which were also ordered to be closed by the cardinal, are scheduled to reopen tomorrow.
Meanwhile, after anti-Muslim riots in Chilaw, 25 miles from Colombo, a curfew was imposed. A military spokesman there were no casualties and that "the situation was brought under control". (© Daily Telegraph, London)