A leading Vatican official on Wednesday began a three-day visit to Sri Lanka, a month after the barbaric Easter Sunday suicide bombing of 3 churches and 3 hotels.
The coordinated attacks by a group said to have links with the so-called Islamic State (IS), killed 258 people and injured some 500.
Two of the places of worship were Catholic churches: St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. Another blast at the Evangelical Zion Church in the eastern coastal city of Batticaloa also claimed numerous lives.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, is visiting the island nation to bring the closeness and solidarity of the Pope to the Catholic community, whose two churches were the targets of the April 21 attacks.
The Italian cardinal flew in from Bangkok, Thailand, where he had been from May 16 to 21, to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Church in the country.
Meeting families of victims
After his arrival in Colombo, Card. Filoni laid the foundation stone of a soup kitchen for the needy of all religions, next to St. Anthony’s Shrine Kochikade, that was devastated by a suicide bomber during Easter Sunday Mass.
The Vatican official was also able to meet the relatives of the victims and conveyed the Pope’s consolation and encouragement, recalling his condemnation of the inhuman acts that struck the Christian community gathered in prayer on the solemn feast of the Resurrection of the Lord.
The local Church has initiated a vigorous programme of helping the relatives of the victims with material, psychological and spiritual aid.
Growing esteem for Church
The fact that the faithful are flocking to churches in larger numbers than before is a great witness of faith in the predominantly Buddhist nation, where there are also Hindu and Muslim minority communities.
Sources in the Archdiocese of Colombo told Vatican News that esteem for the Catholic Church has grown with the faithful being admired for their non-violent and reconciliatory attitude and reaction to the bomb attacks.
Card. Filoni also met President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka and the Catholic bishops of the country to whom he spoke about mission and formation.
On Thursday, the cardinal will visit St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, where more than 100 people were in the Easter Sunday attack. There, he will lay the foundation stone of a new chapel for the cemetery. Card. Filoni will also meet the families of victims.