COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - At least 296 people were killed in explosions Easter morning, detonated in churches and hotels across Sri Lanka. Hundreds more are reportedly injured.
At 8:45 a.m., explosions were detonated during Easter Mass at churches in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and in Negombo, a city 20 miles to its north. At the same time, a bomb exploded at a service at the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.
St. Anthony’s Shrine was the Catholic church targeted in Colombo, and St. Sebastian’s is the Catholic parish in Negombo.
Pews were shattered by the blast at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, and floors and ceilings were covered in blood. The shrine is the most well-known Church in Sri Lanka, and is designated the country’s national shrine. The first chapel on the Church property was built during Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonial period, when Catholicism was mostly forbidden on the island.
There were also explosions Sunday morning at three luxury hotels in Colombo.
Pope Francis expressed his sorrow for the attacks in Sri Lanka following the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing Easter Sunday.
He entrusted to the Lord those who have died and been wounded, or are suffering, because of the attack.
“I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, called on Sri Lankans to remain “united and strong” in the face of “cowardly attacks on our people today.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. In recent weeks, there has been concern that Sri Lankans who had been part of the Islamic State could become a threat, as they have begun returning to the country from the Middle East, according to the BBC.
The country has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009.
Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal; its population is more than 21 million. More than 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslims, and fewer than 8% are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of the Sri Lanka’s Christians.
In a January 2015 visit to the country, Pope Francis urged peace and reconciliation among the country's rival factions.
“In this difficult effort to forgive and find peace, Mary is always here to encourage us, to guide us, to lead us,” the pope said Jan. 14, 2015, at the Our Lady of Madhu shrine in Sri Lanka's Mannar district.
“Just as she forgave her son's killers at the foot of his cross, then held his lifeless body in her hands, so now she wants to guide Sri Lankans to greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God's pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all.”
This story has been updated.