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Archbishop in unity plea on visit to Sri Lankan church targeted by terrorists

More than 100 people died at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo on Easter Sunday – one of several suicide bomb attacks in the country that day.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, centre, and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, centre, and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

By Krishan Francis, Associated Press

The Archbishop of Canterbury has emphasised the need for Christian unity as he paid tribute to the victims of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks at a Roman Catholic church in Sri Lanka.

The Most Rev Justin Welby visited St Sebastian’s Church in the seaside town of Negombo just after arriving for a three-day visit to the country.

More than 100 people died in the attack on the church in Negombo, which is known as The Little Rome due to its dense Catholic population.

A total of 263 people were killed when seven suicide bombers from a local Muslim group attacked three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, in the worst violence by the Islamic State group-linked militants in South Asia.

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The Archbishop paid homage to victims of the Easter Sunday attacks as he kneeled at the spot where the suicide bomber detonated explosives (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Quoting a sermon by Pope Francis’s personal preacher delivered to the Queen years ago, Mr Welby said: “When they come to kill us do they ask if we are Anglicans or Pentecost or Presbyterian or Catholic? They ask only if we are Christian.

“So when on Easter morning I heard of the terrible events in this church and other places in Sri Lanka, we knew that our sisters and brothers have been killed and wounded and we kept silence and prayed for you.”

Mr Welby was welcomed by the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.

He knelt and bowed down on the glass-covered tiled floor where the suicide bomber set off the explosives at Easter Mass. The pockmarked area is preserved as a memorial.

“When I see this statue, this image of Christ covered with the blood of the martyrs; I know by that the courage, your faith and your love. I see the true Christ,” Mr Welby said pointing to a blood-splattered statue of Risen Christ kept in a glass enclosure.

“Not the Christ who is distant and clean but the Christ who is covered his own and our blood.”

Mr Welby also thanked the Sri Lankan Christians for displaying restraint after the carnage.

“To come before you, I am almost without words; for I can only say thank you to the Christians of Sri Lanka.”

“We know that the Christ who on the cross said ‘Father forgive’ know our anger, your pain, your sorrow and we know that through his resurrection even that anger and sorrow and pain will be transformed in purity to hope,” he said.

He also laid white roses near a plaque with the names of those killed.

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The Archbishop addressed the congregation at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Mr Welby is also expected to meet Sri Lanka’s PM Ranil Wickremesinghe and preside over a service in an Anglican cathedral in Colombo.

His visit comes a month after Cardinal Ranjith — Sri Lanka’s most senior Roman Catholic — called for an independent and transparent commission to investigate the Easter attacks, saying justice had not yet been served.

Sri Lankan leaders and the security establishment are under fire for not acting on near-specific intelligence on possible attacks on churches. Government leaders have acknowledged some intelligence units were aware of possible attacks weeks before the bombings.

President Maithripala Sirisena has said he had been kept in the dark on intelligence about the planned attacks and vowed to “take stern action” against officials who failed to share it. He later appointed a presidential commission to investigate.

PA

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