Cardinal Demands Answers Over Easter Bombings: ‘We Will Take To the Streets’

Two Catholic churches, one evangelical Christian church, four hotels, and a housing complex were hit by a total of nine suicide bombers on Easter Sunday, 2019

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo. (photo: Edward Pentin/National Catholic Register)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Cardinal Malcom Ranjith of Colombo has said he will lead public protests if the Sri Lankan government fails to produce a credible report on the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings. The cardinal said Saturday that questions about government inaction ahead of the attacks remain unanswered.

“I will not hesitate to hit the streets to safeguard the rights of our people,” Cardinal Ranjith said March 7, according to the news site Outlook India. The cardinal had previously expressed support for an ongoing presidential enquiry into the attacks, which killed 259 people and injured more than 500.

Two Catholic churches, one evangelical Christian church, four hotels, and a housing complex were hit by a total of nine suicide bombers on Easter Sunday, 2019. The suicide bombers, who were all Sri Lankan citizens, belonged to an Islamist group known as the National Thowheeth Jama’ath.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Sri Lankan authorities were heavily criticized for failing to prevent the attacks. It has been reported that Indian intelligence services repeatedly warned Sri Lanka about the possibility of an attack occurring on Easter Sunday, including on the morning of the attacks. 

“Nobody took serious note,” said Cardinal Ranjith in June. “This disaster could have been prevented because if I knew that there was an attack planned I would have closed the churches and told the people to go home.”

Last month, the cardinal issued a call for full public disclosure of what was known in advance of the attacks, and what action was taken.

“The people of this country have a right to know the truth about the Easter bomb attacks,” said Cardinal Ranjith on Feb. 18. “We hope that our political leaders will work to fulfill that obligation.” 

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, the cardinal repeated his concerns and his impatience with the lack of progress with ongoing government investigations.

"I can sense that some of the things which need to come out are being hidden – who was responsible? Who aided them and kept contact with them?"

"There must be questioning from the highest to the very lowest level," the cardinal said.

Speaking at a separate event on Sunday, Cardinal Ranjith said that "investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks have revealed that current government-related 'big people' have also been involved, and no action has been taken against them."

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who assumed office in November 2019, has worked with Cardinal Ranjith on the investigation into the attacks, and asked him to appoint a representative to a special presidential commission examining the bombings.

Cardinal Ranjith did not nominate a representative, and instead appeared before the commission himself on December 6 and 7 last year. 

Cardinal Ranjith said at the time that he wished to represent the concerns of both the victims and the country’s Catholic community.

Referencing the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka, scheduled for April 25, Cardinal Ranjith said on Sunday that he was not seeking a change of government, but justice for the victims of the attacks. “We will take to the streets with our people whether we have this election or not," he said.

In addition to his calls for more transparency from government authorities, Cardinal Ranjith has also announced services to mark the anniversary of the attack, with prayer services and holy hours at all churches in the archdiocese from April 17-21 to pray for the bombing victims and their families.

“It is the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Colombo to never forget all those who lost their lives in this tragic attack on that day,” the cardinal said last month. 

Two of the prayer services will be held at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kotahena and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, the locations of the attacks. Those services will be held on April 20.