By Robin Gomes
Sri Lankan Catholics returned to churches for public worship and programmes on Sunday, after Easter Sunday’s attacks, claimed by the Islamic State, killed more than 250 people and injured some 500.
Soldiers and police armed with assault rifles patrolled the streets leading to churches and stood guard outside the compounds. The faithful were searched before being allowed in and backpacks were banned. Everyone entering was required to produce identity cards and was body searched.
Volunteers stationed at the entrances identified parishioners and looked out for suspicious individuals.
Parking was banned near the churches and officials requested worshippers to bring along only minimum baggage.
In the cities of Colombo and Negombo, where two Catholic churches were hit, Masses were held under strict security checks and armed surveillance by security forces.
The police checked every entrance to St Lucia’s Cathedral in Colombo, one of the largest churches in the country, which was packed to capacity, with many injured or who lost relatives in the attacks of 21 April.
Catholic schools are scheduled to re-open on May 14. While Catholic educational institutions remained closed as a precautionary measure, the state schools, numbering more than 10,000, resumed classes on May 6 under guard by security forces.
Mass for the death, May 16
Catholics are also eagerly awaiting the Mass for the souls of the victims scheduled for May 16 in Negombo, the scene of the bloodiest massacre with over 100 victims.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, told a press conference on May 9 that the Catholic Church decided to reopen its schools after assurance from security forces.
He lamented the inaction of the government in taking measures despite reports from foreign intelligence agencies that attacks were in offing. He hoped authorities will now work with the intelligence services to adopt appropriate strategies to combat terrorist activities in the country.
Meanwhile, with tension running high between Christian and Muslim communities in the predominantly Buddhist nation, authorities imposed curfew across its northwest province on Monday to check the violence. Mosques, shops and properties owned by Muslims came under attack in the worst outbreak of violence since the Easter bombings.
The government has also temporarily blocked social media and messaging apps, the third time since Easter Sunday.
The government acted after an exchange of accusations between two people on Facebook led a mob to attack a Muslim-owned shop on Sunday in the Catholic-majority town of Chilaw, located about 80 kilometres north of Colombo. The curfew was lifted on Monday.