Today the country came to a standstill for three minutes in memory of the dead of the Easter massacre. Catholics in shock. Family members go in search of missing relatives with photos from family albums. The threat of new attacks persists.
Katuwapitiya (AsiaNews) - "How was it possible that all this tragedy happened?" This is what the inhabitants of Katuwapitiya, Negombo neighborhood, are wondering, where on Easter Sunday a bomb went off in the church of St. Sebastian causing dozens of victims. Meanwhile, the toll from the attacks of two days ago continues to rise: according to the latest updates, at least 310 people died in explosions at three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo. National mourning was declared on the island nation and the whole country stopped for three minutes from 8.30, in memory of what are now being called "the martyrs of Sri Lanka". The hypothesis is growing that the explosives were placed by the small local Islamic faction National Thowheed Jamath - although no group has yet officialy claimed the massacre. Yesterday the All Ceylon Muslims Jamiyyathul Ulama (Acju) issued a firm condemnation of the massacre. This followed the condolences of Pope Francis and world leaders. Here is the eye witness testimony of AsiaNews' correspondent on the ground.
The entire village of Katuwapitiya is in tears. The streets and houses are decorated with white flags and banners as a sign of mourning. Here stands the church of St. Sebastian. From time to time its bells toll in tribute to those who have gone. Fr. Sanjeewa Appuhamy, assistant parish priest, says that those who are "gone" are the "dead who are now with the heavenly Father".
Speaking to AsiaNews Fr. Sanjeewa, assistant of the parish of Katuwapitiya, says: "After the mass we were listening to the parish council's thanksgiving speech. All of a sudden we heard a big noise and then a bang. Unfortunately we lost many parishioners in a second. It's a tragedy. The big question is why people do such cruel things against other people."
Right now, he continues, "instead of asking" Where is God?" we should ask ourselves: "What have we done to have such a tragedy?". We should think about what we need to do so that similar events do not happen in our society. We are Christians and we must examine this tragedy in a patient way, without accusing anyone. "
Nimal Perera, who lives near the church, describes the moment of the attack: "We were waiting to join the procession for the Risen Christ which is held after Mass and winds through the parish and the village. But all of a sudden we heard a big noise coming from one side of the church and we thought it was a special firecracker, since usually in the Christian holidays various types of firecrackers are used ".
"But then I saw my son-in-law - she says - running back and forth screaming "Oh my God, it's a bomb ". I don't know how many managed to save themselves. We attended the vigil of the eve because my niece had asked us. Otherwise we too would have gone to morning mass. " Then she invokes: "Oh God, assist us and give us the strength to endure the deep sorrow of our parishioners".
Kumara Cherchill Karunarathna, a middle-aged man, cannot stop crying as he lays a bouquet of white flowers in front of the main entrance of Katuwapitiya church. "No member of my family has died," he reports. "We have no faith in this government or in the Supreme Court or in parliamentarians. We have only our God, to whom we ask for everything when we come to church. Now even this possibility has faded because of the horrible act. Who are the killers who kill innocent Catholics and hit the churches? "
Kumara continues: "Every morning, before bringing my three children to school, I come to this church and pray for a minute. Then I accompany them to class. Some people I met, now they are gone. The pain is too big to bear. I lay these flowers for all the dead, to [show] them our love. How can we watch over our children when similar things happen? ".
Since yesterday evening the parishioners and non-local people have come to the church in a dribble with little hope for their relatives lost in the tragedy.
The church door remains closed except for the priests. Ministers, deputies and government officials in charge of investigating enter the severely damaged church [and speak] with cleaners and the media.
In the meantime, discussions are taking place among the victims and security forces in service. An elderly couple wearing black and white clothes begs: "Please let us go in and watch the surveillance cameras at the mission residence because our sister's car is parked in the back, but there is no trace of her and her two children. We went to all the hospitals in Negombo, Colombo, Kalubowila and Gmpah, but we didn't find them. In the end we came here to see the images of the cameras, to have at least a clue ”.
Another gentleman says: "We had planned to go out for lunch after Easter mass, but all our dreams were broken. My older brother and his two daughters died in the explosion. We were saved because we participated in the function the night before. What should we do? We do not know".
Ms. Thivanka and her aunt look at the video surveillance footage from the mission residence in tears. The aunt shows a family album and reports: "We are looking for my brother. He and his wife were together at mass. We found my sister's lifeless body full of wounds, but there is no trace of my brother's (Thivanka's uncle). No one knows anything about him, even though we asked several hospitals. "
Yesterday several Buddhist monks visited the church and spoke with Prof. Induragare Dhammarathana Thero. "We are very sorry for this ruthless act of terrorism," they say. "We cannot be satisfied with just offering our condolences or condemning this obscene act of violence. We must find a remedy to stop the dangers. The threat and the risk are not over because we have heard of the existence of other suicide bombers. Where are they? Why did they release some culprits related to these incidents? The end has not yet come. The authorities must take all necessary actions to stop the threats ".