Catholics in the Sri Lankan cities of Colombo and Negombo, where churches were struck by suicide bombers on Easter Sunday, have held their first Sunday morning masses since the attacks that killed more than 250 people.
Police stood guard at every entrance to St Lucia’s cathedral in Colombo, one of the country’s largest churches, which was full of worshipers, including many who had lost relatives in the bombings on 21 April claimed by Islamic State.
Those attending passed through full-body searches and were banned from bringing bags, and the road outside was barricaded and guarded by armed soldiers. Troops wearing masks and camouflage patrolled the surrounding area on motorbikes.
Eight-year-old Joshua Berney found it too much, and left partway through the mass. He lost an aunt, an uncle and three cousins in Colombo’s St Anthony’s church, including one who was his best friend.
“We still haven’t found his body, so it’s difficult,” his mother, BJ, said. “My son finds it tough.”
At Colombo’s Mother of Seven Sorrows Mater Dolorosa church, two streets way from St Anthony’s, devotees trickled in until the building was full. Wall-mounted fans whirred at capacity to beat back the intense humidity.
“The parishioners were really upset that we didn’t have a mass the last two weeks,” said Fr Anthony Fernando Marcelliar, who led the service. He held a private mass last Sunday, which about 50 people heard about and attended.
“Others found out later that there was a mass and they couldn’t come and they were really upset – they even scolded me,” Marcelliar said.
More than a dozen children in the congregation were having counselling, he added. “One mother told me yesterday that her son of eight years get excited even by the slightest noise and doesn’t sleep well at night.”
Catholic private schools, which have been shut since the attacks, are likely to re-open on Tuesday.
A heavy police and army presence is still visible in major cities and villages as security forces continue the hunt for accomplices of the terror cell that executed the bombings.
The president of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, told parliament this week that most of the 150 people suspected to have been linked to the plot have died or been arrested. He said 56 had been arrested on suspicion of direct involvement in the plot, of which 12 were hardcore terrorists.
The precise involvement of Isis in the attacks is not clear. Sirisena said police had so far discovered 13 safe-houses, 41 bank accounts and 19 vehicles and motorcycles belonging to the bombers. Those who had aided the terrorists had been paid cash rewards of up to 2 million rupees (£8,700), he added.
Police are continuing to issue specific warnings of possible attacks in Colombo.
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