News 29 Apr 2024

Sri Lanka: A town stands as a witness to the resurrection after persecution

Thousands of the faithful signed a petition addressed to Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, requesting the initiation of a cause for the beatification of the 171 Catholics killed five years ago. On April 21, 2019, what began as a joyful Easter Sunday celebration in Kutuwapitiya, Sri Lanka, descended into a scene of unimaginable horror when an explosion destroyed St. Sebastian's Church, claiming 115 lives, including 27 children. This tragedy was part of eight coordinated attacks by seven terrorists across the country, which resulted in 264 deaths and over 500 injuries.

Devanjalie Marista Fernando, a young survivor, recounted the harrowing experience to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). "I attended church with my mother and sat at the back for some air, as it was crowded. After receiving communion, a loud explosion occurred, followed by a fireball. As the roof collapsed, I covered my head, ran outside, and found my father. In shock, he asked about my mother, and I found her critically injured among the benches."

Father Gregory Vajira Silva, a Third Order Franciscan, recalled the devastation. "I was stunned. Bodies were everywhere, and the attack was sudden and brutal." Known as "Little Rome" for its high Catholic population and numerous religious monuments, Katuwapitiya mourned as it conducted over 100 funerals from a single parish. "We ran out of burial space, so a local cemetery owner donated land," Father Silva explained.

The attacker, who had lived among the villagers for three months, betrayed their trust, deeply wounding the community. "He was treated like a brother but betrayed their love," said Father Silva. This violence exposed a dangerous ideology threatening societal fabric.

After the attack, security concerns led to church closures in Katywapitiya, but the faithful persisted in seeking mass times. Father Silva and others began celebrating in homes, reminiscent of early Christians, emphasizing the indispensability of faith during persecution. "We realized we have no life without the Eucharist," he stated.

The community, profoundly traumatized, looked to the Church for support. "We walked beside them, not preaching, but simply being present," Father Silva shared. Priests were assigned to families, providing emotional and practical support.

Father Silva is certain the victims are martyrs, having died because of their decision to attend church and proclaim their faith. On the fifth anniversary of the attack, the Archdiocese of Colombo's community delivered a petition to Cardinal Ranjith, signed by thousands, seeking the beatification of the 171 killed that day.

Though scars remain, Katuwapitiya stands as a testament to hope in eternal life. Shaken in faith, Father Silva found solace kneeling at the altar, where a drop of blood on the missal above a sentence echoed Christ's words of consolation and the promise of resurrection to those nourished by the sacraments.

The Mass is the most effective prayer that could be said on behalf of those who have died. ACN can arrange recurring annual Masses for your dearly departed loved ones.

Ways to Give / Donate

Mass Offerings

Mass Offerings

Give now
Make a Donation

Make a Donation

Other Ways to Give

Other Ways to Give

Phone1800 101 201