COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNA) — Religious and civil leaders have responded with condolences, prayer and calls for justice after several explosions at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds more on Easter Sunday.
Calling it “a very, very sad day for all of us,” Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, canceled all remaining Easter Masses for the day in the Colombo district.
He expressed his “deepest sorrow and sympathy to all those innocent families that have lost someone, and also to those who have been injured and rendered destitute,” Vatican News reported.
“I condemn — to the utmost of my capacity — this act that has caused so much death and suffering to the people,” Cardinal Ranjith said. He called for a strong and impartial inquiry to find those responsible for the attacks.
Shortly before 9 a.m., explosions were detonated during Easter Mass at Catholic churches in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and in Negombo, a city 20 miles to its north. At the same time, a bomb exploded at a service at the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.
Pews were shattered by the blast at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, and floors and ceilings were covered in blood. The Catholic shrine is the most well-known church in Sri Lanka, and is designated the country’s national shrine. The first chapel on the church property was built during Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonial period, when Catholicism was mostly forbidden on the island.
St. Sebastian Parish in Negombo, where more than 50 people were killed, was also heavily damaged.
There were also explosions Sunday morning at three luxury hotels in Colombo and explosions outside a zoo and a private home Sunday afternoon.
At the conclusion of his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) address on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis said the violence in Sri Lanka has brought “grief and sorrow” to the people there.
“I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.
“I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” the pope said. “I entrust to the Lord all those who have been tragically lost and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer because of this tragic event.”
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offered his prayers for the victims and their families in a prepared statement.
“This great evil targeted these churches as they were packed full of worshipers who were celebrating Easter, the day in which Christians around the world celebrate the rising of the King of Peace from the dead,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
“We join with all people of good will in condemning these acts of terrorism. This evil cannot overcome the hope found in our Savior’s Resurrection. May the God of hope who has raised his Son, fill all hearts with the desire for peace.”
USCCB vice president Archbishop José H. Gómez issued a similar statement calling for prayers for the victims of the attacks.
“May they know the promise of the Resurrection and may God bring comfort to their families and their loved ones. Only love can conquer evil and violence, so we ask Jesus this morning for the courage to love and we pray for the conversion of every heart that is hardened by hatred,” Archbishop Gómez said. “May the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is our mother and the mother of mercy, console those who are suffering and watch over all of us. And may God grant us peace.”
A spokesperson for United Nations Secretary General António Guterres voiced outrage at the attacks and called for justice for perpetrators.
“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, the people and the government of Sri Lanka and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. He commends the leadership demonstrated by the authorities and unity of the people of Sri Lanka in the wake of the attacks,” the spokesperson said, adding that Guterres “reiterates the support and solidarity of the United Nations with the people and the government of Sri Lanka in this difficult moment for the nation.”
In a post on Twitter, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the attacks “in the strongest terms.”
“These attacks demonstrate the brutal nature of terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten peace & security,” he said. “We offer our deepest condolences and stand with the government & people of #SriLanka.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but a police spokesman said seven people have been arrested in connection with them, according to the Associated Press. Some reports suggested that an additional six suspects were later arrested.
The island nation, which is home to a population of more than 21 million, has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009. More than 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13 percent are Hindus, almost 10 percent are Muslims and fewer than 8 percent are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of Sri Lanka’s Christians.