Pope Francis Recalls 2019 Easter Bombings With Sri Lankan Immigrants at the Vatican

Meanwhile, activists in the Asian island-nation credit the Catholic Church’s ‘bold and strong stance’ with helping to inspire massive protests against the Sri Lankan government’s management of the country’s economic crisis.

Pope Francis arrives to meet with members of the Sri Lankan community in Italy on April 25 at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
Pope Francis arrives to meet with members of the Sri Lankan community in Italy on April 25 at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. (photo: ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP via Getty Images)

The memories of the horrific 2019 Easter bomb blasts that rocked churches and hotels in Sri Lanka reverberated at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican on Monday, when Pope Francis addressed nearly 4,000 Sri Lankan immigrants.  

“Please, out of love for justice, out of love for your people, let it be made clear once and for all who were responsible for these events,” Pope Francis pleaded while addressing the gathering, which included 41 victims of the deadly blasts that claimed 269 lives and injured many more, Vatican News reported

In his own remarks at St. Peter’s, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo summarized the 2019 Easter Day serial blasts: “On 21st April 2019, on Easter Sunday, a group of Islamic terrorists carried out bomb attacks in three churches, two Catholic and one evangelical, in Colombo and in Batticaloa, and in three tourist hotels, causing the deaths of 269 persons, among which there were 82 children, most of whom were killed inside the churches, and wounding more than 500 persons, some of whom with wounds which have rendered them disabled for life.” 

Catholics made up about half of the attacks’ victims. 

Among those gathering in Rome, Cardinal Ranjith noted, were “41 representatives of the families that survived; children who remain disabled for life due to this attack, parish priests of those churches who were celebrating Mass during the explosions.”  

Besides Catholics and evangelical Christians, he pointed out, representatives of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu communities were also present at the Vatican to mark the third anniversary of the deadly blasts. Sri Lanka has a current population of 23.2 million, according to the CIA World Factbook. 70% are Buddhists, 13% are Hindus, and 10% are Muslims. Catholics account for 6%, with another 1% belonging to other Christian denominations. 

Cardinal Ranjith noted that three years after the attacks, it’s still not known who organized the deadly series of bombings. 

Though the blasts were initially “posited” as an “attempt generated by Islamists,” Cardinal Ranjith recalled, “gradually, there are emerging evidences which indicate that the attack was politically masterminded. Up to now, close links have been discovered among certain political groups, among extremist right-wing nationalistic Sri Lankan groups, some political leaders, some chiefs in the police and intelligence services and the group of Islamists who planned these attacks.” 

“Unfortunately, there is an attempt on the part of some sectors of local political authority to credit all responsibility on the Muslim extremists and to sweep under the carpet the involvement of any other political or social forces,” said the cardinal. 

This cover-up, he said, forced the local Church “even to go to the Human Rights High Commission in Geneva. We thank you for your blessings for our effort aimed at finding the truth.” 


‘Economic and Social Crises’ 

“At the moment, Sri Lanka has entered into a period of intense economic and social crises, due to political blunders of our political leaders. It seems Sri Lanka has fallen into a state of extreme poverty and loss,” said Cardinal Ranjith, discussing the overall current situation in his island-nation. 

In his response, the Holy Father, after recalling his January 2015 visit, urged, “Let us pray for those who govern, for those who bear social and educational responsibility, and for all the people” — apparently in reference to the turbulent times, with massive protests against the country’s debilitating economic crisis. 

These expressions of concern in Rome followed a warning issued by the Sri Lankan bishops earlier this month.  

“The country is fast approaching the precipice of a failed state that will in its wake inflict irreversible injuries on the people,” Bishop Winston Fernando, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, said in April 2 statement deploring the economic crisis. 

“The bold and strong stance the Church took consistently against the government for justice for the Easter blasts has been an inspiration for the ongoing countrywide protests,” Jehan Perera, a Catholic who is executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka in which all major religious groups are members, told the Register April 26 from Colombo. 

“The Church has shown to the people how peaceful protests can be carried out against the powers that be. Now, hundreds of thousands are out in the streets against the economic catastrophe,” Perera said. 

“Prices have doubled amid severe shortage of food and fuel, while inflation is going through the roof,” Perera explained regarding the economic crisis, with the Sri Lankan government lacking the foreign currency it needs to import fuel and food items. 

“Some priests in remote areas have shared with me how people are starving and desperately seeking help,” Perera elaborated. 

Perera shared a viral social-media post of “nuns standing in front of youth protesters to guard them from any police action,” describing the nuns as “our barricades.” 

“The spirited, long Church campaign for justice has inspired many,” Oblates of Mary Immaculate Father Rohan Silva, director of the Centre for Society and Religion, a Catholic social action center in Sri Lanka, told the Register. “The statements of the Church on the economic crisis too have shown its determination to be with the people.”  

“The other day, protesters took refuge at our center following heavy rains. We gave them shelter for the night also. In crucial times, we have to stand with the people,” said Father Rohan, whose congregation is the largest one in Sri Lanka. 


‘We Are With the People’ 

Jesuit Father Milroy Fernando, based at Mannar in the north of the country, told the Register that the prolonged Church campaign for justice in the Easter blasts has been “indeed an inspiration for the massive protests.”  

He said the massive protests, demanding the resignation of the Sri Lankan government, have been consistently gathering momentum. On April 26, the demonstrators extended their protest to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office, as they intensified their calls for the government led by his family to resign, the Press Trust of India reported

“We are with the people. So our priests and nuns are also on the streets, joining the people in protest,” Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, representative of the Colombo Archdiocese, told the Register when asked about the Church’s response to the ongoing public protests. 

“When the people are going through unprecedented crisis, it is our duty to stand with them,” said Father Fernando, who earlier had to face police questioning after he spoke at a webinar about the deficiencies of the investigation to find the culprits behind the Easter blasts. 

“Fear of government retribution should not cow the people,” he added. “They should stand united and speak up.”