Sri Lanka terror victims are martyrs, say cardinals

Catholics killed in the Easter Sunday bombings 'died because of their faith'
Sri Lanka terror victims are martyrs, say cardinals

A memorial at St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya in Negombo bears the names of the martyrs who died in an attack by a suicide bomber on Easter Sunday. (ucanews.com photo)

Two cardinals have described those who died in two Sri Lankan Catholic churches in the Easter Sunday terror attacks as martyrs.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti said those who were killed in Katuwapitiya and Kochchikade on April 21 died for their beliefs.

The cardinals were attending an annual event to bless the sick at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in Tewatta in Ragama, 20 kilometers north of Colombo, on Aug. 25.

"Our brothers and sisters died because of their faith," said Cardinal Ranjith of Colombo.

Cardinal Ranjith said that Cardinal Bassetti, the president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, had said that all the bomb victims are martyrs.

"Cardinal Bassetti has promised to discuss with Pope Francis about their martyrdom when he meets the pope on September 3," said Cardinal Ranjith in his sermon.

"He said the burial ground at Katuwapitiya will be the ground for the saints in future. We still do not know who caused the destruction and who was behind the bomb blasts. You all know that there is no still right answer to my request from the government."

Sri Lankan Catholics want an impartial commission with the representation of all parties to investigative the attacks, but the government has yet to respond.

The attacks by several suicide bombers on three churches and three luxury hotels killed 258 people. Police initially blamed local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ).

Extra security was in place in Tewatta for the blessing. Thousands of faithful including bishops, priests, nuns and relatives of bomb victims attended the service. 

Samantha Fernando, a catechist for 10 years, said those who were killed in Christian churches gave their lives pleading no more violence in God's name.

"All victims were engaged in acts of worship. The persecution of believers is a great sowing of martyrdom and these days Christians witness religious persecution around the world," said Fernando.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka and Cardinal Ranjith earlier said that a fair investigation has not yet taken place and they appealed to the government to hold an impartial inquiry and bring the perpetrators before the law.

Bishops said several committees had been established with a main focus to establish those responsible for the serious lapses in security. The bishops said they had not seen any positive signs in this direction.

President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a presidential commission to investigate the Easter attacks but its report has yet to be revealed.

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The government and its security agencies have been blamed for not acting to halt the attacks after receiving intelligence warnings weeks before the bombings.

Cardinal Ranjith recently refused to meet all presidential candidates until the investigation report on the attacks was handed over.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka is Sri Lanka's national shrine.

"We all are with you as shepherds and ready to face any challenges on behalf of you. Sometimes I shed tears," Cardinal Ranjith told those who attended the blessing.

"There is no discipline in Sri Lankan society today and it is the responsibility of all religious leaders to build the country with strong spirituality."

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