COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (ChurchMilitant.com) - Sunday Mass in Sri Lanka is suspended indefinitely following the terror attacks on Easter Sunday.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, ordered that all the country's churches should be closed on Sundays after church bombings in the country left about 300 dead. He claimed he had seen intelligence documents indicating plans for continued attacks on Christians.
According to the Associated Press, many Sri Lankan Catholics watched Mass on television this Sunday. Cardinal Ranjith offered the televised Mass from a chapel at his residence in Colombo.
In his televised homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, the cardinal said, "This is a time our hearts are tested by the great destruction that took place last Sunday."
He added, "This is a time questions such as, 'does God truly love us,' 'does He have compassion toward us,' can arise in human hearts."
Reportedly, Catholic parishes in Sri Lanka are also canceling weekday Masses and other public functions.
A video released April 26 by the Associated Press shows the bombed-out interior of St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo five days after the attack. Saint Anthony's was one of the two Catholic Churches targeted by suicide bombers, alongside St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo. Also targeted were a Pentecostal church and several luxury hotels.
Clergy of the Colombo archdiocese were in the pews for Cdl. Ranjith's televised Mass this Sunday. Also present were President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. Many have criticized government inefficiencies for known terror threats that apparently went ignored.
Also on Sunday, the Sri Lankan government announced a ban on any face coverings. Going into effect Monday, the law will have the side effect of preventing Muslim women from covering their faces with the niqab or the burqa. The niqab is a full-face veil with a slit for the wearer's eyes; the burqa is a full-body covering with mesh over the face.
Sri Lanka is a majority-Buddhist country with notable Christian, Hindu and Muslim minorities.
At least 75 people have been arrested during the massive investigations following the bombings.
On Friday, April 26, Sri Lanka deployed thousands of security personnel to protect Muslim mosques and other religious centers, owing to fear of retaliatory attacks and copycat attacks.
Reportedly, some Muslims fled their homes in the Negombo region due to retaliatory threats from locals.
Also on Friday, a shootout and explosion during a police raid left 16 dead in eastern Sri Lanka. The police were raiding a garage thought to be a bomb-making facility in the town of Sainthamaruthu. Six terrorist suspects and 10 civilians were killed in connection to the raid, and two suspects reportedly fled the scene.
Just a few miles away, another police raid earlier that day led to the seizure of large quantities of explosives, as well as ISIS flags and uniforms and 100,000 ball bearings. The metal balls are often stuffed inside suicide bomber's vests to increase the amount of shrapnel.
Blame for the Easter Sunday attacks has been placed on two local groups: National Thowheed Jamaat and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, but authorities are still probing for more information on ISIS' alleged connection to the bombings.
Early reporting on the Easter Sunday bombings put the death count over 300, and even as high as 350. But later reports featured a corrected death toll of 253. Sri Lanka officials say that many victims' corpses were torn to pieces by the explosion, making the initial body counts inaccurate. Findings from autopsies and DNA sampling provoked officials to announce the lower body count.
April 23, the Tuesday after the bombings, was declared a national day of mourning in Sri Lanka.
Following the attacks, news came out that Sri Lankan officials had received warnings about plans to attack Christians on Easter Sunday, but failed to act on this information.
President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said they did not know about these warnings until after the attacks. They vowed to fire any government officials who received the information and failed to act.
Sri Lanka's defense minister, Hemasiri Fernando, reportedly said in the aftermath of the suicide bombings, "It was quite impossible to protect a large number of churches last Sunday, despite receiving prior information about these attacks."
He claimed that the government had little information about the alleged bombing plans, arguing that there were few preventative security measures that could have been taken.
Fernando resigned on Thursday, April 25, one day after President Sirisena encouraged him to step down.
Cardinal Ranjith commented on the government's failure to act, telling the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on April 23, "It's absolutely unacceptable behavior on the part of these high officials of the government, including some of the ministry officials."
He opined, "These kind of officials should be immediately sacked, removed from these positions. And human beings who have a feeling for the needs of others and for the people must be inserted into these positions."
The cardinal added that he would have canceled the public rituals for Holy Week and Easter if he had been informed of the threat.
On Friday, April 26, President Sirisena told a press conference that he hopes this terror attack does not lead to hatred against Muslims. He also mentioned the goal of searching every house in the country to find suspects connected to the attacks.
One of the suicide bombers has been identified as Zahran Hashim, a Muslim preacher who called for violence against non-Muslims. Officials from India had warned Sri Lanka about Hashim's dangerous rhetoric and the threat of killing Christians on Easter Sunday. Sri Lankan law enforcement took note of the warning but did not act on it.
According to officials, Hashim was one of the two suicide bombers who attacked the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo, the nation's capital. He was known to harass Sufi Muslims, a group whom many Islamic extremists dismiss as non-believers.