Photo Credits: @apsi_doodles (Instagram)
On Sunday morning I was walking out of church in Marawila. More commonly referred to as “Kurusa Palliya” by the locals, crowds of Catholics and non-Catholics come to the church to see the statue of Christ which is said to be miraculous.
The Church of the Holy Cross, which lies just a few meters from the beach, is a picture of calm, where one can spend hours in solitude. As I walked back to the car, I was filled with a sense of peace – this however was not to last. I was immediately met with a host of missed calls and frantic messages. Taken a back I turned the radio on, only to hear the words “explosions in churches.”
A true member of Generation Y, I went to google for answers, only to be met with the horrific reality – three churches around the country had been attacked. The feeling of despair only got worse as I learnt one of the churches was St Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo. I had only just been at Easter Sunday mass in a church close by– so many questions rushed to my head, Why Easter? Why churches? Why Catholics? Why Us?
While I may not be the most devout Catholic, and miss a Sunday Mass here and there, I have always found solace in the wooden pews of churches. My mind rushed to the numerous times a week I go to church, to give thanks, seek answers, or just think. Churches have always been for me a safe haven, but that Sunday all I saw was carnage and destruction. The very pews I used to sit on, were now covered in blood and ash.
I tried to make sense of what was going on. Who would commit such senseless acts of violence, on what was the most important day in the liturgical calendar? Why would you attack innocent worshippers? Why target those who cannot defend themselves? After days of watching the news and reading up online, I still cannot make sense of the atrocities that were committed on Easter Sunday, and I have come to terms with the fact that it is okay. It is okay to feel confused, to feel lost, to feel anger, and above all to feel hurt. No shred of rationality will be able to comprehend what happened on Sunday.
What I do know is that acts such as these, although unthinkable are not unprecedented. Most recently there was the attack on a Mosque in New Zealand, then there was the 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church in Texas, the 2015 bombing of a Mosque in Kuwait, and the attack of three churches in Northern Nigeria in 2012, with the list going on. Places of worship have historically been targeted by extremists for one reason alone - to maximize emotional effect. Attacks on places of worship double not just as attacks on worshippers, but as attacks on the community itself. They are carried out by fearmongers who want to divide, cause unrest and incite hatred.
What I also know is that on April 21st, even after witnessing the worst attack this country has seen since the end of the Civil War, grappling with a political system that is broken, and politicians who spend their time pointing fingers at each other instead of accepting any real responsibility, this community has not allowed its attackers to prevail. They might have attacked our churches, they might have attacked our hotels, they might have attacked our people, but they have failed to destroy our sense of unity. What I witnessed after the Easter Sunday attacks was a community that displayed unparalleled humanity – and it takes me back to that fateful Sunday morning in Marawila. Regardless of ethnicity or religion, people came together and there was a sense of affinity in that sandy church by the beach, the same affinity that was displayed in the hours and days after the attack– that has always been a hallmark of our Sri Lankan identity, and will continue to be, no matter how much others try to divide us.