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Religious leaders react to Sri Lanka attacks

Sertan Sanderson with AFP, Reuters, dpa, KNA, epd
April 21, 2019

The series of bloody attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday sent shockwaves throughout the world. Religious leaders from around the globe have reacted to the bombings, in which over 300 people were killed.

Sri Lanka Negombo explosions
Blood stains are seen on the wall and on a statue of Jesus Christ after the attack at St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri LankaImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Roman Catholic Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa was only getting ready to hold mass at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, when he first heard of the string of attacks in Sri Lanka.

Expecting hundreds of pilgrims for Easter celebrations, Archbishop Pizzaballa held mass just hours later near the shrine at one of Christianity's most important churches, alluding to the pain and violence felt not just in Sri Lanka, but around the globe.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa said that the reaction to the attacks in Sri Lanka had to be a reflection of the Easter messageImage: Getty Images/H.Bader

"Each of us brings his or her experience of Easter, of death and resurrection," he said during his sermon. "In the tragic situation we are living, it is this hope that comes to the rescue of a faith that is at odds every day with such great violence".

Archbishop Pizzaballa did not directly mention Sunday's series of bomb attacks which included strikes on three churches in Sri Lanka. But his message was clear and resonated around the world.

Pope in shock

After Pizzaballa's sermon, the Catholic Church in Jerusalem stressed that the attacks were particularly sad as they "came while Christians celebrate Easter" – a message that also traveled all the way to the Vatican.

Before he spoke to tens of thousands of people who had gathered in St. Peter's Square to celebrate Easter, Pope Francis was seen in the namesake basilica wearing a serious expression. During the Easter Mass he made direct reference to the "cruel violence" in Sri Lanka, saying: "I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, hit while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence."

Pope Francis
Pope Francis expressed his condolences during the Easter Mass on St. Peter's SquareImage: Getty Images/AFP/V. Pinto

He told the faithful gathered at the Vatican that he "learned with sadness and pain of the news of the grave attacks, that precisely today, Easter, brought mourning and pain to churches and other places where people were gathered in Sri Lanka."

"Before the many sufferings of our time, may the Lord of life not find us cold and indifferent. May he make us builders of bridges, not walls," Francis said.

The pontiff later delivered his "Urbi et Orbi" Easter blessing, although the mood in both Vatican City and around the globe was notably subdued for Easter celebrations, the most important holiday in the Christian calendar.

No mercy in Sri Lanka

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's most senior Catholic figure took a less reconciliatory tone while speaking to reporters in response to the attacks. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, expressed his "deepest sorrow and sympathy" for those affected by the attacks and called on the government to find those responsible for the deadly blasts and "punish them mercilessly:"

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith
Sri Lanka's Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said there should be "no mercy" for those who committed the attacksImage: Reuters

"I would also like to ask the government to hold a very impartial strong inquiry and find out who is responsible behind this act and also to punish them mercilessly," he said. Cardinal Ranjith, however, also stressed that Sri Lankans should respect the rule of law, saying "I ask all our Sri Lankan people not to take the law into their own hands and to maintain peace and harmony in this country."

Christian reactions in Germany

The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx meanwhile sent an open letter to Bishop Julian Winston Fernando, head of the Sri Lankan Bishops' Conference, in which he wrote that this particular Easter Sunday had turned into a "dark Good Friday on which death tries to conquer life" with "this wave of blind violence."

Cardinal Marx
German Cardinal Reinhard Marx sent an open letter to the Sri Lankan Bishops' Conference to express his sympathyImage: picture-alliance/Catholic Press

"Death and hatred have no control over humans. This is what we believe in, especially during Easter," he added.

Protestant church leaders in Germany also shared their reactions to the events in Sri Lanka. One of the most senior protestant leaders in the country, head of Germany's Lutheran Church in the state of Hesse, Volker Jung, said that the message of Easter is one of stark and complete contrast to "any violence, any terror and death itself".

Archbishop of Canterbury: Christ defies darkness

Messages of condolence and sympathy also started to pour in from other Christian denominations, with Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of The Church of England and the global Anglican Communion, saying that this "utterly despicable destruction on this holiest of days seeks to challenge the reality of the risen Christ."

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby highlighted the importance of Christ's resurrection as a contrast to violenceImage: Getty Images/B. Pruchnie

He added that the "murder of innocents in Sri Lanka" is an attempt "(t)o say that darkness will conquer, that our choice is surrender or death. Jesus chose to defy this darkness and he is risen indeed."

Faiths united against violence and hate

Leaders from other religions and faiths also commented on the even events in Sri Lanka, with the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, saying in a statement that the attacks amounted to a "truly barbarous assault on peaceful worshippers on one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar," and adding that this day served "as a painful reminder that the war against terror must be at the top of the international agenda and pursued relentlessly."

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder
World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder highlighted the importance of fighting terrorismImage: Reuters/K. Pempel

"World Jewry - in fact all civilized people - denounce this heinous outrage and appeal for zero tolerance of those who use terror to advance their objectives," Lauder further said.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar University, one of the most important educational institutions in Sunni Islam, also condemned the attacks:

"I cannot imagine a human being could target the peaceful on their celebration day. Those terrorists' perverted disposition goes against the teachings of all religions," he said on Twitter.

"I pray that God grants patience to the families of the casualties and recovery to the injured," he added.

Call for unity against terror among Muslims in Germany

The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, took to Twitter, saying that those who commit violent acts against "believers, churches and places of worship, attack God himself and won't find peace in this world or the next."

Mazyek further underscored that during such a time, acts of terror should not be instrumentalized as a tool to sow dissent among people.

Another Muslim leader in Germany, the head of the predominantly Turkish Islamrat (Islam Council), Burhan Kesici, echoed similar sentiments in his reaction to the events, saying that "we cannot allow terror and violence to divide us."

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Sertan Sanderson DW journalist & human seeking to make sense of the world and understand what motivates other humansSertanSanderson