By P.K.Balachandran/Ananda Bazar Patrika
Christians, who were the bulk of the 259 dead and 500 injured in the series of suicide bombings which took place in three churches and three posh hotels in Sri Lanka on April 21 Easter Sunday 2019, celebrated Easter this year with sobriety and piety rather than gaiety.
Easter, which marks the resurrection of Christ after he was crucified, is a joyous occasion to be celebrated with family and friends. Churches across Sri Lanka attract huge crowds of worshipers. But this year, due to the nation-wide lockdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic, and also the carnage that shook the nation only a year before, the Christian community stayed indoors and held prayers assisted by priests who said the Easter mass on-line.
Following the request of the government, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had ordered all Catholic churches shut, as did the heads of other denominations. He himself led an Easter mass with just of few in the congregation.
Fr.Jude Joy Mariarathnam, who was in St.Anthony’s church in Kochchikade when the blast went off, had just 12 people participating in his mass.
M.Abraham Sumanthiran, a Member of Parliament from Jaffna who was a Christian lay preacher earlier, said that Lankan churches have now become tech-savvy and had taken to online preaching since the lockdowns forced the closure of churches. And congregations have taken it well he added. Cardinal Ranjith said mass on TV which was seen by the hoi polloi without internet connections.
The pith and substance of the sermons given by the Cardinal and Fr.Marirathnam was that the Catholic church and the Catholics as a people have forgiven those who had bombed churches filled with worshipers on April 21, 2019.
The police blame National Tawheed Jamaath members for the carnage which happened at churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa and three major hotels in Colombo almost simultaneously at about 8.45 am.
Though there were attacks against Muslims in some places outside Colombo, the Christian community, as such, did not retaliate. They were told by their leaders not to take revenge against Muslims as a community for the misdeeds of a few misguided ones among them. And the obedient Christians abided without the slightest rancor.
In his Easter mass broadcast from a TV studio, Cardinal Ranjith recalled that the Catholics “offered love to the enemies who tried to destroy them”.
“We forgave them,” he said, adding that instead of retaliating, the nation’s Catholic minority had contemplated Jesus’s message of hope and reduced tensions.
Fr Jude Mariaratnam, who had miraculously escaped during the bombing of St. Anhony’s Church in Kochchikade near Colombo harbor, told the Globe Tamil YouTube channel on Sunday, that rancor and revenge would never bring peace and lasting gain. The agents of violence would get satisfaction from their grisly deeds but that will only be momentary.
“Though the act of uncivilized, our religious leaders counseled against revenge and retaliation.”
Asked by interviewer Arun Arokianathar if forgiveness is still the attitude of the people, a year after the horrendous event, Fr.Mariaratnam said that pardoning a man’s sins is central to Christian thought and taking revenge is alien to it.
Asked if, after the blast and the slaughter of innocents, people still have faith in St.Anthony, Fr.Mariaratnam said that people’s devotion has in fact gone up. “Their faith has got strengthened. The attendance is greater than before,” he said.
Adversity promotes faith not only in God but among fellow human beings and brings about social changes for the better, he said. The sense of community increases and cooperation rather than competition comes to the fore as the dominant mode of human interaction.
Asked if the absence of community worship in the context of the lockdown has been detrimental to the sustenance and promotion of faith and religiosity, Fr.Mariaratnam said that that assessment is far from the truth.
The lockdown due to the coronavirus threat has done some good to the society. People spend time at home with the family when earlier these very people said that they did not have the time to be with the family. The general scarcity of goods and services affects the rich and the poor alike. The rich also feel the pinch equally and that makes them share what they have. Feelings of brotherhood have been enhanced.
Asked if there is any feeling against the Muslims as such during the first anniversary of the first ever serial suicide bombing in Sri Lanka, Tamil National Alliance (MP) and a practising Christian, M.A.Sumanthiran, categorically said that there is no animosity.
The quiet way in which Easter Sunday was celebrated on April 12, and the absence of any kind of rancor among the Christians, clearly showed the non-communal underpinnings of Sri Lankan culture and society and the maturity of the people, cutting across class, caste and religion.
(The picture at the top shows Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith conducting the Easter mass and saying that the church has forgiven the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers)