Sri Lanka’s Catholics celebrated Mass in their homes via a televised broadcast on Sunday as churches across the island nation shut over fears of militant attacks, a week after the Islamic State-claimed Easter suicide bombings killed over 250 people.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, delivered a homily before members of the clergy and the country’s leaders in a small chapel at his Colombo residence — an extraordinary measure underlining the fear still gripping this nation of 21 million people.
“This is a time our hearts are tested by the great destruction that took place last Sunday,” Ranjith said. “This is a time questions such as, does God truly love us, does he have compassion toward us, can arise in human hearts.”
In a rare show of unity, President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the Mass. Their political rivalry and government dysfunction are blamed for a failure to act upon near-specific information received from foreign intelligence agencies that preceded the bombings, which targeted three churches and three luxury hotels.
Police, meanwhile, entered the main mosque of National Towheed Jamaat on Sunday afternoon, just a day after authorities declared it and another organization terror groups over the bombings.
No mass at St Anthony’s today so these devoted parishioners gathered on the streets outside to say their prayers, sing their hymns and pay respects to the victims of Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings pic.twitter.com/c7DVr0BTgd
— Peter Hutchison (@HutchisonPeter) April 28, 2019
Police entered the mosque, located in Kattankudy in eastern Sri Lanka, and stopped an interview among foreign journalists and mosque officials. Later, a senior police officer dispersed journalists waiting outside, saying authorities were conducting a “cordon and search operation.”
Police then left, locking up the mosque just before afternoon prayers were to start.
Authorities banned National Towheed Jamaat over its ties to Mohammed Zahran, the alleged mastermind of the Easter attacks.
Police also announced the arrests of two of five people wanted in connection with the attacks after their pictures were distributed publicly.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said the two, Mohamed Ivuhayim Shahid Abdul Haq and Mohamed Ivuhayim Sadiq Abdul Haq, were arrested in Nawalapitiya, 125 kilometers (77 miles) east of Colombo, the capital. The three others, all women, remain at large. Police did not elaborate on what roles they may have played.
In the eastern district of Ampara, where a gunfight and explosions left 15 people dead following a police raid on Friday, soldiers guarded St. Mary Magdalen’s Church. A sign on the gate said the church and the school would be closed until May 6. A nearby mosque also had soldiers stationed outside.
At the YMCA, a group of young girls held Sunday school near a portrait of Christ. Sajith Liyanage, a 51-year-old Catholic, said he remained worried and would watch Mass on TV.
“We can’t understand what the situation is right now,” Liyanage said.
At Ampara’s weekly Sunday market, police officers walked explosive-sniffing dogs past ripe-yellow bananas, pineapples and coconuts. Officers also searched women’s bags and pushed aside brown fallen leaves, checking the grounds for any bombs.
“Everything is falling apart because of this issue. Business is almost nonexistent,” said vendor Chandima Krishanthi. “That is how we are living right now.”
“Even though the security forces are here, it’s not like earlier. We are living in fear. It’s nothing like it used to be,” she said.
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SOURCE: PBS NewsHour; The Associated Press, Jon Gambrell and Krishan Francis