Sri Lankan church schools to reopen after Easter bombings
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan Catholic officials said Thursday that church-run schools that have been closed since Easter Sunday bombings are expected to reopen next week, and Sunday Masses will resume this weekend if security conditions are appropriate.
Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said priests have been asked to decide whether to hold services at their churches this Sunday depending on the security situation.
President Maithripala Sirisena met with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka and discussed measures being taken to ensure the safety of the churches and schools. The bishops declined to provide details of the talks.
More than 250 people were killed when suicide bombers struck three churches and three tourist hotels on Easter.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were carried by a local radicalized Muslim group.
Masses at churches were canceled for a second week last Sunday and the reopening of schools was postponed after reports warned of possible new attacks.
Ranjith celebrated Mass near St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo on Thursday — praying for the souls of more than 100 people who were killed there in one of the bombings.
The service was held outside the church, which is still being repaired. Hundreds of people attended, including some who were wounded in the bombing.
“I don’t know what to say, I didn’t prepare a sermon,” Ranjith told celebrants. “But I want to tell you one thing, we are with you sharing in your sorrow, sharing in the loneliness of your homes.”
Muslim religious, political and civic leaders said their community is being unfairly blamed for the attacks.
“It is unfortunate that the Muslim community is harassed and targeted because of the actions of a few individuals who committed these acts in the name of Islam,” said M.I.M. Rizwie, the head of the council of Muslim scholars.
“Hence it is our humble plea to our fellow countrymen to not stereotype all Muslims as terrorists,” he said. Rizwie said security forces were able to arrest many members of the terror group and seize their explosive materials because of information provided by Muslims.
Muslims are under surveillance and have been subjected to hate comments on social media since the Easter attacks.
A mob attacked Muslim homes and shops on Sunday night, but the unrest was soon brought under control.