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Grief gripping Sri Lankan communities after Easter Sunday bombing attacks across island nation

Grief-stricken: A mother in Negombo, Sri Lanka, mourns her daughter, who died in the Easter bomb blasts. Photo: CNS

BRISBANE priest Dominican Father Pan Jordan said the deadly Easter bombing attacks on churches and luxury hotels had “shocked and devastated” Sri Lankan Catholics across the world.

“Such a blast has never been seen in Sri Lanka – even during the civil war times,” Fr Jordan, from northern Sri Lanka and now the Queensland co-ordinator of Pax Christi (Peace of Christ), said.

“It will take weeks, months, years for the people of Sri Lanka to rebuild their lives after this.” 

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge expressed solidarity with the more than 22,000 Sri Lankan Catholics now living in Australia, saying that the Catholic community would rally around them in every way possible.

Pope Francis also expressed words of solidarity at the conclusion of his Easter Urbi et Orbi address to the faithful in St Peter’s Square.

“I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community (of Sri Lanka), wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.

On a national day of mourning on Aril 23, Fr Jordan was consoling a 20-year-old student studying in Australia, who lost her parents in the bombings. 

The Sydney-based student was spending Easter with her uncle in Brisbane when the horrifying news came through.

Fr Jordan said he knew of other Sri Lankans, members of parishes in Brisbane, who had lost family and were quietly grieving.

Terror: Police officers work the scene at St Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on April 22, after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels the previous day.

Investigations are focused on the links that seven suicide bombers had with terror groups, as well as information that India had warned Sri Lankan authorities 10 days prior to the blasts – that attacks on churches were imminent.

The military was given a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects – powers that were used during three decades of civil war, but withdrawn when it ended a decade ago.

Search and rescue, and victim identification continued, amid an outpouring of grief and condolences expressed worldwide.

The death toll continued to rise – about 300, with about 500 injured.

An Australian woman, Manik Suriaaratchi and her 10-year-old daughter Alexendria were among the dead, killed when a bomb exploded inside a church in Negombo.

Ms Suriaaratchi’s husband was uninjured in the blast as he was parking the family car when the bomb went off.

The co-ordinated bombings were carried out by seven suicide bombers, and their targets were apparently picked for maximum symbolic value. 

Carnage: A blood-stained statue of Christ is seen after a bombing at St Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Photo: CNS

St Anthony’s, in the heart of Colombo, is a national shrine, attended by multi-faith worshippers.

Fr Jordan knows the church well, and has celebrated Mass there many times.

“There is great devotion to St Anthony. Every Tuesday the church is packed with people from many religions,” he said.

“It is close to the harbour in the old town and the cross of St Anthony’s is the very first sign any traveller sees, coming into the port.”

The second prominent church attacked was St Sebastian’s, in Negombo, a fishing town north of the capital. Negombo is nicknamed “Little Rome” because of its strong Catholic culture, which dates back to the 16th-century Portuguese colonialism.

Fr Jordan said he had been present at horrific bombing scenes during Sri Lanka’s three decades of civil war.

“When I see these latest attacks it brings my mind back to those times,” he said.

“As a nation we are shocked, devastated by these attacks. 

“The Catholic community is really affected. It is like a funeral right across the country.”

A Mass for the victims of the Sri Lankan terrorist attacks will be held on Sunday, April 28 at The Cathedral of St Stephen. Archbishop Mark Coleridge will celebrate the Mass, which will begin at 8am.

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