Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church has declared March 7, Black Sunday.
The church is calling on the faithful to attend Sunday Mass attired in black or to wear black arm bands. It was on April 21 two years ago, that two Catholic churches, an Evangelical Church and three well-known hotels were bombed by Islamic extremists.
But the protest is not over the bombings which claimed more than two hundred and fifty lives and maimed a whole host of others. The majority of the victims were in church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, that Easter Sunday morn. Both locals and foreigners were amongst the victims at the three hotels.
The church, led by Colombo’s Archbishop, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith is protesting the findings of the most recent investigation into the suicide bombings.
In January, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena, during whose presidency the bombings took place, presented its report to current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It is reported the Cardinal received a copy just this week.
President Rajapaksa appointed 6 members, all from his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)party, to study the findings of the report.
That got the ire of the Cardinal, who remarked that some of those appointed to the new committee have not even passed their Ordinary Level examination, a shot at most politicians who have no real higher education.
As agitation for the report to be made public grew, the government quietly sent it to the Parliament. But here again, it was just the section with the recommendations, and not all of the findings. Had it not been for Samagi JanaBalavegaya MP Harin Fernando, who, within minutes of the report reaching the parliaments library, photographed and tweeted out the 10 recommendations, the public may never have known its contents; the most telling is that criminal proceedings against former president Sirisena and some others be instituted, for ignoring warnings of the imminent attack.
But, say those who have had access to the report in Parliament, it does not reveal the masterminds of that dastardly act.
So, who fears the truth coming out? That’s an answer all of Sri Lanka wants to know.
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has got himself into an interesting situation. An ardent supporter of the current regime, he lost no opportunity of painting the previous Yahapalanaya government black. They were no good, he would say. They had no backbone. They must be packed off home as soon as possible.
And the Easter bombings helped him add fuel to his declarations against the Yahapalana government. He became the darling of all, even the anti-Christians!
For years now, Sri Lanka’s Muslims have been targeted by nationalists, who insist the former is bent on converting Sri Lanka into an Islamic State. There have been a couple of attacks on Muslims, mostly since the end of the ethnic war, which pitted State forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009. Moreover, stories of Muslims planning to render the rest of the population infertile through various means, be it food, magical substances or the surgical knife, have resulted in the anti-Muslim fervour gaining ground across the county. Then came the Easter Sunday bombings, which not only branded all Muslims as terrorists, but sealed the fate of the Yahapalanaya government. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was hailed as the only saviour of the Sinhala race who could ensure the security of the country. A majority of the Sinhala Christians and some Tamils too, swallowed that bait.
Suddenly the Christians of Sri Lanka, became everyone’s darling, with banners and posters appearing on government buildings and street corners, expressing sympathy and solidarity over the Easter carnage.
The Cardinal, for his part, was in his element, speaking out publicly, and claiming that the power struggle between the former President and Prime Minister who were from two different political parties, paved the way for the bombings. Speaking to the faithful at the St. Sebastian Church, Katuwapitiya, one of the blast sites, he was quoted as saying in July 2019 ‘“They weakened and demoralized the intelligence services to please their international partners and international NGOs’.
In fact he rejected outright the report of the All Party Parliamentary Committee appointed to investigate the Easter bombings. “These have been set up to write a script to suit a particular political party,” he said. “I can’t accept them.” Interestingly, the SLPP and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Yahapalanaya’s most vociferous opponents did not nominate anyone to that committee.
Indeed, the Cardinal has never hidden his contempt for the international community. In 2018, delivering a homily at St/ Mathew’s Church in Ekala, he described human rights as a western concept. It was the new religion of the West, he said, while such ideas had always been embedded in religious teachings in Sri Lanka.
But in the face of a regime that continues to ignore his pleadings to reveal who or what caused the Easter bombings, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has even threatened to get the assistance of the much maligned international community.
And so, he now leads his faithful in prayer ‘……….. Just as the blood of Abel cried out to You for justice, the blood of our brothers and sisters, the Easter bomb victims, now cry out to You for truth and justice. Guide our civil leaders to conduct all investigations impartially and with transparency…..’
Perhaps this is the first time that the Cardinal has come up against the reality that most mortals must deal with on a daily basis; the denial of truth, justice, impartiality and transparency.
But, let’s hope, that the high regard he holds this government in, will be reciprocated, and that real justice will be meted out, and the mastermind is revealed.
Until then, the Black Sunday protest will continue!