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Sri Lanka

 

Sri Lanka: Psychological and pastoral aid for victims of the attacks

26.08.2019 in Sri Lanka

ACN supports Church trauma programmes

The Pontifical International Charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka in its efforts to assist the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place on Easter Sunday. In April of this year, Islamist suicide bombers claimed the lives of almost 300 people and injured more than 500 in three Christian churches as well as three hotels. Thanks to a large wave of solidarity throughout the country and from the Sri Lankan diaspora living abroad, as well as immediate relief measures from parts of the government, it has been possible to quickly rebuild the two Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Colombo that had been destroyed during the attacks.

The affected families immediately received medical and material aid. Many of them have not only lost a beloved family member, but also the sole breadwinner of the family, which means that they now face financial ruin. The Archdiocese of Colombo has begun to provide long-term, post-traumatic aid for the healing process and psychosocial assistance for the survivors and their families. ACN is providing the funding for this project.

Healing the Traumas

There are many people who experienced the attacks directly and are now severely traumatized. Some have lost all members of their household. A large number of families are still taking care of their relatives, some of whom sustained severe injuries. To provide for their needs, the Archdiocese of Colombo has set up a team of 40 certified trauma therapists. They provide psychological care for grieving, injured and other severely traumatized people. Therapy programmes specifically geared towards children, families and people living alone are also in the planning stages. These programmes will benefit more than 2,000 people.

A large part of the aid provided by ACN will be used to train 300 consultants and social workers—also in the area of youth services—to ensure that they can identify traumatized people and support them in a manner appropriate to their needs.

The Archdiocese of Colombo has grouped all of these measures within a programme entitled “Pain to the Cross and to the Blessed Sacrament,” as the focus is on coping with trauma and grief from a Christian perspective. The individualized care programme also includes a spiritual offer, such as a Bible-based session held under the motto, “Healing for the Wounds of the Heart.”

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ACN Interview – Sri Lanka after the Easter attacks

26.07.2019 in Sri Lanka

ACN INTERVIEW – SRI LANKA

“The whole country was baptised overnight”

An interview by Stephan Baier / Kirche in Not (ACN)

Father Prasad Harshan supports the victims of the terror attacks in Sri Lanka with his “Faith Animation Team”


Father Prasad, the terror attacks at Easter in three Christian churches in Sri Lanka have wounded the faithful not only physically and psychologically, but also in their faith. How does the Church support them? Our Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith wanted to have missionaries on the street, going from parish to parish, from street to street, to listen to the people in their homes, to hear their stories and stand by them in all their struggles of faith. We already started this three years ago. Now, when we learned of this tragedy, it has become a blessing; a blessing for the Church and for the people. We are five priests who are working with the terror victims. We are particularly active in Negombo, where 115 people were murdered and more than 280 injured in a single parish. Everywhere we see black flags of mourning. The people are wounded, physically, mentally and spiritually. We see how the people have been wounded in their faith and in their religious life. In 30 years of civil war, we never had such bomb attacks in churches. The people are asking themselves, why did it happen? And why at Easter?

Did this cause any doubting of faith and distancing from the Church? At first the people were shocked. How could God have permitted it in His own house? We priests were determined to stay at the people’s side, even though we had no answers to give. We were with them in their homes. We wanted to show them that God is and remains with them. After the shock came anger. Especially when they learned that the government had received warnings  in advance. The people had to struggle with their feelings. Here, the Cardinal’s appeal to be guided by faith and not by emotions played a great role.

 

What is your pastoral work in concrete terms? We are working a great deal with children, who are scared to come to church or Sunday school again. And also with mothers, to strengthen their faith. 475 years ago, a Hindu king murdered 600 Christians in the north of Sri Lanka. We are taking the families of the victims to the places of memorial to these martyrs in the north. Those who died on Easter Sunday are martyrs, because they lost their lives for their faith. Through this visit to the earlier martyrs, we seek to heal the wounds of the families. People who were wounded or widowed in the civil war also speak with them, encourage them, and give witness to their faith in God.

 

Many Catholics in Sri Lanka have told me that, after the terror attacks, they have become stronger and more devout than before. For those who were directly affected, the wounds remain today. But altogether, it was a blessing for the Catholics in our country, because the whole country was baptised overnight. There is baptism with water, and baptism with blood. Suddenly, our whole country became aware of the presence of the Catholics and the special nature of their faith. In the past, some 4,000 people watched the Cardinal’s video message. Now there are hundreds of thousands. They want to see what he thinks. We saw the true meaning of Easter! But it began with the torn bodies, with the blood of the martyrs.

 

The Buddhists represent 70 per cent of the inhabitants of Sri Lanka. Why have the terrorists not attacked Buddhist temples?  They are the majority in this country, and they also include fighters. We do not know why no Buddhist temples were attacked. It may have to do with the fact that, although the Catholic Church represents a minority in this country, it is the largest religious community in the world. The terrorists want to get the whole world involved.

 

How have the killings affected relations between Buddhists and Catholics? The Buddhists started to discuss among themselves how admirable the Catholics were. Why did they not seek revenge?  Fortunately, we have a wonderful system in the Catholic Church: the priests listen to the Cardinal, the faithful listen to the priests. Now the Buddhist monks also admire us Catholics, and they treat us with a great deal of sympathy and respect.

 

How did the leaders of the Islamic religious community in Sri Lanka react to the terror from within their own ranks?

The Muslim authorities recognised that it was their mistake to remain silent about the activities of terrorist groups in their communities. We were not aware of it, but they knew about it. They understood that it is a disaster for the whole country. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all the suicide bombers were Muslims. Therefore, the Muslims could not deny their share of responsibility. They now have the mission to cleanse themselves internally. When the investigations started, weapons were found in the mosques. That was shocking for us. The Islamic leaders have a duty to interpret the Koran in a peaceful way.

 

Has international solidarity with the victims in Sri Lanka been noticeable?

International Catholic relief organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) have greatly helped us here. We are a minority in the country, but we know that we are  part of a larger family. People who have never been to Sri Lanka pray for us and give donations! Thus, the Catholic Church has become a blessing for all the people of Sri Lanka. Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists also died in our churches. An inner transformation has begun, in that the people are looking to the Catholic Church. They begin to understand what it means to live in Christ.

 

Sri Lanka Undeterred courage!

25.07.2019 in ACN, ACN NEWS, Asia, Sri Lanka

Saint Sebastian Church reopens

Last Sunday, July 21, in Sri Lanka at Saint Sebastian Church (situated in the Katuwapitiya neighbourhood of Negombo, close the capital of Colombo), Mass was celebrated for the first time in a long time. This comes after three months ago to the day, on Easter Sunday last April 21, a bomb ripped through the inside of the church during Mass. 

According to local media (newsfirst.lk) over 1,000 people participated in the reopening of the repaired Church. The surviving families were seated in the front pews.

It should be recalled that on the feast of the Resurrection of our Lord—the most significant day of the year on the Christian calendar—suicide bombers killed 253 people injured over 500 others in six different locations in Sri Lanka. Saint Sebastian’s Church was one of the places targeted by terrorists and 100 people lost their lives.

Inside the church, the parishioners could see a statue representing the risen Jesus, now preserved under protective glass—the statue is covered by the blood of the victims of the bombing. For many Christians, this symbol is not seen as morbid, but instead represents the memory of the deceased who lost their lives because of the hatred expressed against them, solely because they were Christian.

The first Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo. Newsfirst.lk reported that near the end of his homily, the cardinal reminded Christians not to hate Muslims or the people of the Muslim faith, for in his estimation, the attacks were not at all orchestrated by the members of this faith. Rather, by an international group—not named in this article—who used a group of young people for its international conspiracy. He urged people to treat people of the Muslim faith with respect for he feels they should not be held responsible for the attacks.

The images you see in this video were filmed by a team from the Catholic Radio Television Network (CRTN), regular partners of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). CRTN produces among others Where God Weeps—a program broadcast in Canada on Salt and Light TV/ Télé Sel et Lumièreand dozens of documentaries produced by ACN which are also broadcast countrywide in Canada, in English and in French.

ACN News – Christians still in a state of shock in Sri Lanka

27.06.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN International, ACN NEWS, by Matthias Böhnke, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Christians still in a state of shock

by Matthias Böhnke, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin for ACN Canada
Published on the web June 27, 2019

“The attacks have reminded many people of the time when a state of emergency was declared during the civil war. The general public and especially all of the Christians in Sri Lanka are still in a state of shock.” This was the summary given by Veronique Vogel, head of projects in Asia for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), upon returning from a visit to the country (Sri Lanka), exactly four weeks after the terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday that killed or injured hundreds of people all over the country to take stock of the situation and to sympathize with some of the partners who were directly touched by the violence.

 

She spoke of palpable tensions throughout the country, recurring unrest and fear. “The security measures throughout Sri Lanka were very strict during our visit; security forces and the military were everywhere. But fear persists, particularly among the Christian population. Everyone is well aware of the fact that more assassins were involved on Easter Sunday than were identified and arrested. Therefore, everyone knows that somewhere out there extremely dangerous people are running around who could attack again at any time.”

 

The archbishop of the diocese of Colombo, Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith, is now appealing to the public to remain calm and to refrain from carrying out acts of revenge. “During our trip, I repeatedly got the sense that the Christians were thankful for the words of their archbishop and were taking them to heart,” Veronique Vogel reported. Over a period of just a few days, the small delegation from ACN visited mainly the regions around the capital city of Colombo and the neighbouring city of Negombo, where most of the attacks on churches and hotels had taken place. “This trip was arranged so that we could see for ourselves the state of the Catholic parishes and to assure them of our solidarity. After all, the terrorist attacks were specifically targeted at Christians,” Vogel continued. “It is important for us to provide the benefactors of ACN with first-hand information about the situation on site to ensure that we don’t forget to pray for Sri Lanka and we can give the country our support.”

 

In spite of everything, Christians have a great faith

Veronique Vogel reported that although the churches in the country have been accessible again to the faithful since 21 May, exactly one month after the series of attacks were carried out, many Christians are severely traumatized. “Many told me that they are afraid to enter a church at the moment or feel fear when they hear the bells ring. Saddening testimony of just how stressful the memories of Easter Sunday must be for them.”

 

However, she also discovered that many who had themselves become victims or had lost family members felt that their experiences had strengthened them in their faith. “Since the situation in the country had been comparatively quiet over the last few years, many people are having trouble understanding why they in Sri Lanka had to endure such suffering. But their will to live and faith remain very strong. The Christians and the people in Sri Lanka do not want civil war, but are actively working to maintain lasting peace,” the head of projects in Asia for ACN emphasized.

 

Mrs. Vogel was especially impressed by their visit to a Franciscan convent in Negombo. She explained that the convent is located directly across from the Catholic Church of St. Sebastian. During the attacks, at least 100 people were killed at this location alone. She spoke of how the Franciscans showed them videos of horrible scenes from the day of the attacks and how they had immediately rushed to the scene after the explosions to care for the wounded and help recover the dead. “In spite of these traumatic experiences, they are models of lived charity and have not let terrorism and violence detract them from their faith and their willingness to help others.”

 

The island nation of Sri Lanka is situated in the Indian Ocean and has about 22 million inhabitants: 70 percent are Buddhist, 12.5 percent Hindu, 9.5 percent Muslim and 8 percent Christian. Many people were killed or severely wounded during a series of attacks on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, that mainly targeted three Christian churches and three hotels in the capital city of Colombo, the neighbouring city of Negombo and the east coast city of Batticaloa. The latest figures estimate nationwide casualties of at least 253 dead and about 500 wounded. The authorities have attributed the attacks to radical Islamist group and jihadists.

 

Over the last 15 years, the pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has invested more than 12 million dollars in projects for Sri Lanka. Among other projects, these funds were used for the building of Christian facilities, for Mass Offerings for priests, for theological education and to ensure the local availability of Christian literature. Following the latest terrorist attacks, ACN is even more strongly committed to strengthening long-term pastoral aid in the country to help heal wounds and bring back hope and confidence to the parishes.

 

ACN Feature Report: Christians as victims of global developments

06.05.2019 in Religious Freedom Report, Sri Lanka, United Nations, Venezuela, Violence against Christians, World

WORLD

2019 – One of the bloodiest years for Christians thus far 

The papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has voiced concern in the face of increasing attacks on Christians all over the world. “As the brutal bombings perpetrated against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday show, 2019 is already one of the bloodiest years for Christians,” declared the executive president of ACN, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern.

The charity, which brings aid to poor and persecuted Christians in more than 140 countries, has become aware of and reported publicly on, among others, the following anti-religious attacks in the first four months of the year alone:
  • – Attacks by Islamist Séléka militia on a catholic mission station in Bangassou Diocese in the Central African Republic in which dozens were killed and around 20,000 people fled the violence at the first of January;

  • – The Islamist attack on the cathedral of Jolo in the southern Philippines which killed 20 people and injured around 90 at the end of January;

  • – Attacks by members of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen tribe on Christian villagers in the Nigerian state of Kaduna in mid-March that left more than 130 dead; and,

  • – Attacks by extremist Hindu nationalists on a Catholic school in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu at the end of March, in which the nuns who worked there were categorically hunted down.

Jesus

Christians as victims of global developments

Heine-Geldern

“The atrocities in Sri Lanka mark the bloody climax of a trend that has endured for some years now: the persecution of Christians knows no bounds. It knows no let-up, especially on the holiest days of the Christian calendar. It knows no mercy on innocent people, who are often made scapegoats for global developments,” Heine-Geldern explains.

Following the attacks in Sri Lanka responsibility was claimed by the Islamic State terrorist militia. Security authorities harbour the assumption that the bombings may have been organized in retaliation for the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand where, in mid-March, a 28-year-old man killed 49 people in two mosques.

Aid to the Church in Need also points to the continuing Islamist threat in the Middle East, as well as the violence by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. “To say that IS has been beaten militarily and therefore no longer exists is a fallacy – the ideology lives on, as do its supporters; the contact channels appear to be working. Our project partners in the Middle East remain extremely concerned,” states Heine-Geldern.

Religion often used as a political weapon to plunge countries into chaos. Most recently additional concerns for the charity have arisen about the situation in countries on the American continent such as Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela, where bishops and priests have suffered repeated attacks as a result of political turmoil. “Here it is a mixture of political ideology and the accusation that the Church is meddling because it calls on people to resist authoritarian governments and corruption. This makes it a target for aggression and violence,” Heine-Geldern says.

 Religion: used as a weapon

In many parts of the world religion is used as a political weapon to destabilize countries and plunge them into chaos. This, Heine-Geldern continues, is what is happening again in Sri Lanka. There the Church is trying extremely hard to prevent outrage at the atrocities from spiralling into further violence. “Social stability is based to a large extent on the peaceful coexistence of the various faiths. This is something many of our project partners are working to achieve,” comments Heine-Geldern.

It is rare for anti-Christian attacks to attract public attention. Thus, the perilous situation in which the Christian minority in Pakistan finds itself first became internationally known through the fate of Asia Bibi, a mother who was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy and acquitted by the court of last instance. Together with other organisations, Aid to the Church in Need had campaigned for her release. Notwithstanding this, Asia Bibi’s fate still remains uncertain.

Religious and political extremism: main causes of persecution

Extremist Islamism, excessive nationalism and authoritarian ideologies are still the main drivers of persecution against Christians and other religious minorities. This is also the conclusion of the Religious Freedom Report, the latest edition of which ACN presented in November 2018 and which illuminates the situation in 196 countries. “We note with great concern that, regrettably, none of these three trends has diminished – quite the contrary. This is currently evident among other places in African states such as Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin, where the hostilities on mission stations, priests and nuns have dramatically increased. People are becoming more and more frightened,” Heine-Geldern observes. According to Heine-Geldern, this distressing development must be challenged. “It is the duty of governments and the UN to bring about peace, to guarantee freedom of religion and to repel anti-religious attacks,” says Heine-Geldern. As for Church, Heine-Geldern says, their role is to stand by the persecuted Christians through prayer and active support and to give them a voice and a face. “ACN has been campaigning for this for more than 70 years. In view of the growing violence against Christians, it is a cause worthy of every support and every effort.”

The 2018 Report on Religious Freedom is available at : www.religious-freedom-report.org.  
For a quicker overview, please go to view our summary version for the report:  Religious Freedom Report 2018

Sri Lanka faces “a crime against humanity”

23.04.2019 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Easter morning suicide bombings of churches, hotels in Sri Lanka are a “crime against humanity,” Said Bishop Chilaw to pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need. Suicide bombers hit three churches and hotels in coordinated, near simultaneous, attacks Easter morning that left 290 people dead, while wounding an estimated 500 more.

Text by Joop Koopman, ACN International
English revision for Canada : Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published on-line : April 23, 2019

The series of bombings began at approximately 8.45AM in the capital of Colombo with an explosion at St. Anthony Shrine, a historic church designated as the country’s national shrine. It is the country’s best-known Catholic church. Within about 45 minutes, a second Catholic church was hit, St. Sebastian’s, in Negomba, some 20 miles up the country’s western coast from Colombo. Subsequently, a bomb exploded at the Protestant Zion Church in Batticaloa, on the eastern coast.

During the same time period, there were explosions at three upscale hotels in Colombo that are popular with Westerners. There are several dozen foreigners among the dead. There are reports of two additional explosions in Colombo.

Reached by telephone, Bishop Warnakulasuriya Devsritha Valence Mendis of Chilaw told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that he condemned “the brutal attack, these acts of absolute violence that we cannot understand.” The bishop said the bombings were “totally unexpected” and that the country had been enjoying peaceful relations among the different faiths.

Buddhists account for 70 percent of the country’s population of 21 million; 13 percent are Hindus, with Christians making up some 10 percent. Sri Lankan Catholics number 1.3 million.

Most Catholics live in the western, coastal part of the country. “The area has many churches,” said Bishop Mendis, adding that St. Anthony’s Shrine attracts “people of all faiths,” with thousands of people visiting the shrine every day.

No group has claimed responsibility for the terror attacks, but there are some reports that Sri Lankan security officials had received warnings that there was a threat to churches, linked to the return to Sri Lanka of ISIS fighters. Indian officials said the coordinated explosions targeting crowded urban settings are typical of the terror method of ISIS.

Pope Francis, after celebrating Mass Easter Sunday, called the bombings “horrendous” and conveyed his “heartfelt closeness to the Christian community, attacked while gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such a cruel act of violence.” Secretary General to the UN, Antonio Guterres,also condemned the bombings and expressed his hope that the aggressors be “quickly brought to justice.”

In Sri Lanka, a majority Buddhist country, Christianity is minority religious group representing barely 9 percent of the country’s population.  Catholics are about 7 percent of the population.  Meanwhile, this percentage is higher in some regions, such as the capital city of Colombo, or the Western coastal region.

Noting that people of various faiths died in the attacks on the hotels, Bishop Mendis labeled the terrorist strikes “a crime against humanity.” “Our Easter joy was taken away from us,” he said and Easter Sunday “became a day of mourning.” The bishop expressed confidence that “our people will face the future with courage and faith.”

In a message to ACN donors, Bishop Mendis said that “we need your prayers that peace and harmony may be restored to our country.” He concluded: “As an act of solidarity, we must pray for all Christians who are suffering because of their faith.”

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