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SRI LANKA: Christians In South Asia Pay Heavy Toll for claims of Islamophobia around The Globe

SRI LANKA: Christians In South Asia Pay Heavy Toll for claims of Islamophobia around The Globe

By Joseph Muthuraj
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
April 24, 2019

This picture was taken at Zion Church in Sri Lanka during Sunday School moments before the bombing happened in the main hall where 22 of these children died. Moments before the blast, the Sunday School teacher asked these kids if they are ready to die for Christ -- they all raised their hands.

At least 359 people including 39 foreigners were killed and over 500 injured in bomb blasts that ripped through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on the Easter Sunday. The attacks were the worst ever against the Sri Lanka's small Christian minority of about 1.2 million Catholic and 300,000 Protestant Christians. The blasts hit three churches when they were full of worshippers gathered for Easter Sunday services. The three churches were the Colombo's historic St Anthony's Shrine, the St Sebastian's church in the town of Negombo -- north of the capital -- and the Zion Evangelical Church in the east-coast town of Batticaloa.

The streets turned into rivers of blood. A survivor told the BBC, "Everyone just started to panic, it was total chaos," he said. "I looked to the room on the right and there's blood everywhere. Everyone was running and a lot of people just don't know what was going on. People had blood on their shirt and there was someone carrying a girl to the ambulance. The walls and the floor were covered in blood." An eye-witness said, "The entire church was destroyed, absolutely shattered, and people were dragging lifeless bodies outside." WhatsApp channels were full of pictures of the horrific scenes inside the church where friends and the relatives of the dead were crying and screaming. The dead body of a worshipper was in his praying posture knelt down with praying hands. Sudesh Kolonne, a worshipper in his thirties cried that his wife Manik and his daughter Alexandria died in his hands.

Sri Lanka's Minister of Economic Reforms, Harsha de Silva, described "horrible scenes" at St Anthony's church. "I saw many body parts strewn all over," he tweeted. Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, condemned the series of bomb attacks in Sri Lanka and compared the perpetrators to animals.

Who was Responsible for the Bombing?

The Police said that 40 people had so far been arrested over the attacks. A local organisation identified as the National Tawheed Jamath has been suspected of plotting the Sunday's blasts, says Sri Lankan cabinet minister Rajitha Senaratne. The Government has not ruled out foreign hand playing a part in it as subsequently it was reported with a video clip that the Islamic State (IS) movement has claimed responsibility for the blast. If the Islamic State claim is true, that would make it one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria. But why on an innocent Asian Christian community which is peace-loving and law-abiding? It has not inflicted any wrong to the Muslim community, be it in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or in Iran. Why on 27 March 2016, Easter Sunday, at least 75 people were killed and over 340 injured in a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan? Why on 23 September 2016, did the suicide bombers kill 81 at All Saints church in Peshawar, Pakistan with 120 wounded?

What is most disturbing is to note that the merciless killings in Sri Lanka are meant to avenge the shooting of 50 worshippers in two mosques in New Zealand happened on 15 March 2019. The Defence minister said that the New Zealand massacre gave the motivation to the six or seven human bombers who were members of a jihadi type of Islamic organisation. The connection between the two incidents is denied by the New Zealand Government.

Right-wing extremist nationalist sentiments nurtured by any culture or religion will not hesitate to commit hate crimes in the style and manner of the massacre at Amritsar 1919. Hard-core nationalism can mix with any religion which can form a shameful scar on a collective national identity characterised by the ideals of multiculturalism, tolerance among religions and social integration.

WORLD REACTION

The Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church of Ceylon, Dhiloraj Canagasabey, defiantly expressed his faith in God as terrorists attacked Churches in Sri Lanka.

"If God gives me permission to live, I shall live. If he gives me permission to die, I shall die," he told the Archbishop of Canterbury in a telephone call.

Bishop Dhiloraj was just beginning the Prayer of Consecration during an Easter Eucharist service at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour at Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo, when the police arrived and warned him to leave. "You must come with us, they are about to come and kill you." But the bishop refused to move until he had finished the Prayer of Consecration.

"I am terribly shocked and deeply saddened by the barbarous acts of violence brought on innocent worshippers at Easter Sunday services", Bishop Dhiloraj said in a statement. "The Church of Ceylon unreservedly condemns these cowardly and cruel acts of terrorism and conveys our deep condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives and have been hurt. We wish all those who have been injured full recovery. We pray for them and their families, that God's comforting presence will continue to be with them through this tragic experience.

"We call on the government to institute quick action to investigate thoroughly these incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice. To ensure the safety of places of religious worship and to prevent any individuals or group taking the law into their hands or provoking acts of intimidation or violence against any community or group.

"I call on all Sri Lankans to be mindful at this time and to act with patience and understanding. The motives of those twisted and warped minds that planned and executed such appalling acts could very well be to destabilise the country and to cause damage to the unity and harmony of our nation.

"I pray that these persons, whoever they may be, will be awakened to the awfulness of their crime and will be moved to repentance."

In a statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "Those affected by the appalling and despicable attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka will be in the prayers of millions marking Easter Sunday around the world. On this holy day, let us stand with the people of Sri Lanka in prayer, condolence and solidarity as we reject all violence, all hatred and all division."

He referred to the atrocity in his Easter Sunday sermon at Canterbury Cathedral this morning. "Left to ourselves, we define ourselves against others. We unite ourselves by finding an enemy. We reassure ourselves with a pride that demeans others," he said. "Such are the age-old ways of gaining and guarding power. They treat proper difference and diversity, such as we are seeing with our hard pressed and unjustly vilified political leaders, as threats. They use words like treason or naivety."

He said that this fear led to the rulers of the time terrifying Pilate "into the unjust execution of Jesus, and then to attack the new Christian church in Jerusalem"; and that hate "paved the road for Hitler to attack the Jews of Europe."

Archbishop Justin has expressed condolences to Bishop Dhiloraj and to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.

A Statement from Archbishop Ben Kwashi, GAFCON General Secretary reads, "...our hearts go out in prayer for all who have been caught up in these deeply traumatic events.... At our recent conference in Dubai, Gafcon resolved to stand with the Suffering Church and this will be a leading agenda item for our Primates Council as it meets in Sydney next week. Meanwhile, in this Easter week let us remember that the one who drew alongside two sad and discouraged disciples on the Emmaus road was the Risen Christ who yet still bore the wounds of the cross. By death he has destroyed death and he will be with us until the very end in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Risen Lord be with you!"

I learn that the GAFCON Primates' meeting next week will be discussing about working out policies to accept the South Asian churches into GAFCON fellowship. Asian Christians do not have the number to add to the numerical strength of GAFCON but it can bring quality and different historical heritage with our commitment to Christian Gospel as the young children in Sri Lanka have already shown 'We are ready to die for the sake of Christ'.

Asian Christians are easy prey for revenge. Do global Christians have the spiritual power to condemn the killings in Sri Lanka and show solidarity with Christians in South Asia? Is extending hands of support seen as a dangerous thing fearing that it might affect the political and ecclesiastical images of the institutions within which each Anglican community lives and operates? The temptation is to show that we are busy with other things that are more important to our own existence, so just mutter few words of sympathy and sadness on the way?

Heart-wrenching Condolence Messages

In a photo picture, Pope Francis is seen praying with an international leader of Islam who sends a message to the terrorists, "If you blow their churches we will open our mosques for them to pray".

Calling the bomb blasts as "truly appalling", the British Prime Minister Theresa May said, "We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear." We hope that the Anglican Communion will adopt this as its motto.

David W. Virtue, DD contributed to the story.

The Rev. Dr. Joseph G Muthuraj is retired Professor of New Testament at United Theological College in Bangalore, India. He is VOL's India correspondent

END

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