Relatives and friends bid farewell to their loved ones at the St Sebastian church. The government calls for caution in relation to the Islamic State group’s claims, pointing the finger at two local Islamic groups. The latter sought revenge for the mosque attacks in New Zealand, and might be linked to foreign groups. President Sirisena pledged support for a quick reconstruction of the church.
Katuwapitiya (AsiaNews) – Today is a national day of mourning in Sri Lanka, following the Easter Sunday attacks against three churches and three hotels in Colombo.
According to the latest reports, the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attacks, whilst the Sri Lankan government deems the bombs a reprisal for the Christchurch attack.
In Katuwapitiya, Negombo, funerals were held for 15 Catholic victims at the St Sebastian church. Meanwhile, the death toll from the attack against the church now stands at 102. The overall number of deaths from all the attacks has reached 321.
According to the authorities, the statement by the Islamic State group should be treated with extreme caution because the source, Amaq, its official mouthpiece, did not provide any evidence to back its claim.
The government believes that two local Islamic groups are involved, National Thowheed Jamath and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, which acted with the support of foreign groups.
Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene told Parliament that "preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka (on Sunday) was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch", New Zealand, against two mosques in March. However, he gave no further details.
Meanwhile, the authorities have extended the curfew from 9 pm tonight to 4 am tomorrow. The correspondent’s article about the funeral follows (edited by AsiaNews).
Some Catholics who went to Mass on Easter Sunday made their final journey together today, saying goodbye forever to their parish and loved ones.
“No one has right to take any one’s life,” said Card Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, during the blessing of the bodies. “It is God who gives life. What gain can you expect by killing innocent people? To collect treasures in this world? To take power and rule the country over the blood of innocent people? The bodies of innocent people? I urge you to give up such bloodshed. Stop killing people at least. I urge you, for sake of God. This is what the people who were slain expect from us.”
Under tight security, a group funeral was held at 10 am this morning for those who requested it. Some bodies were brought to the church courtyard in Katuwapitiya where a large tent was set up to hold 15 coffins.
Only family members, men and women religious and journalists were able to attend the blessing by Card Ranjith, along with his auxiliary bishops, Mgr Maxwell Silva and Mgr J. D. Anthony, as well as a number of priests.
After the blessing, family members took their loved ones to the cemetery where most were buried.
“Our life span is a secret,” the Archbishop of Colombo said. “It is decided by God. We have to obey this decision. Those people responsible for this tragedy might be listening to us now. We will have to tell them that we cannot accept such an act at all. Whatever the case, it is very wrong to do such things.”
“When peace and reconciliation among people comes when the time to establish such peace comes, God will punish you for what you did. You have no right to take the lives of innocent people. Your conscience should know very well that no one has the right to destroy the lives of others.”
“Our faithful come as a family, as individuals, to worship God, just like those who lost their lives. It's too painful an experience. Whatever weakness they had, for us they all had value because they had received life from God. The victims of these attacks have become even more victims."
“I believe that all these dead brothers and sisters are already martyrs. They never thought that they would not return home, and yet they are not going home anymore.”
The decision to bless the victims was taken at a meeting chaired by Fr Srilal Fonseka, parish priest at the St Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya.
Yesterday, during the meeting, it was reported that 102 bodies were in the hospital and another 62 people were still hospitalised. Two patients are in intensive care at a hospital in Negombo. Of the 102 dead, 86 have been identified. The others are still in the morgue.
President Maithripala Sirisena visited St Sebastian this morning to get information on the situation and examine the damage done to the building. During his meeting with the parish priest, Fr Fonseka, he extended his condolences to the clergyman and to all the Catholics in the area.
The president also inquired about reconstruction work, noting that he had ordered the Sri Lankan army to complete the work as soon as possible.
During the meeting, Mr Sirisena also stated that the government was taking all the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of similar acts of violence in the country.
After he paid his respect to the victims killed in the explosion and bid them farewell, he visited several homes in the area to extend his condolences to the families of the victims and to local Catholics.