An Australian appeal has been established to support the Catholic community in Sri Lanka, still reeling from the Easter Sunday bombings that killed 253 people and wounded hundreds.
Aid to the Church in Need – whose mission is to support the Christian faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need – established the appeal on Friday 26 April.
National Director of Aid to the Church in Need in Australia, Bernard Toutounji, said local donations would be forwarded on to support a special fund set up by Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.
“As we move from Easter Sunday into the Easter Season, we want to continue to keep watch with the Sri Lankan people, which is one of the largest ethnic groups in Australia,” Mr Toutounji said.
He said material and spiritual support for the Sri Lankan people could help to “ensure the faith is kept alive and that the love of Christ is never extinguished due to persecution and suffering”.
A number of Masses and other services of prayer and remembrance have been held across Australia in the week since the Easter bombings.
At a Mass at Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral on Friday, thousands of people held flickering candles and raised their illuminated phones as they prayed for the victims of what has been described as one of Sri Lanka’s worst days.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP called for an end to hatred and violence during the Mass.
“It’s clear the Easter Sunday bombers hated Christians,” he told the gathering.
Sri Lankan Consul General Lal Raj Wickrematunga told the crowd the community would get through with “compassion and love”.
“After 10 years of peace, Sri Lanka had to face one of its worst days,” he said.
Sri Lankan chaplain Fr Chaminda Wanigasena said Friday’s gathering was a “very sombre occasion” after a “moment of crisis”.
Masses for the victims of the Sri Lanka attacks have also been held in Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin and Perth in recent days.
“For many decades, ACN, as a pontifical foundation supporting suffering and persecuted Christians, has work closely with the Church in Sri Lanka on project around the formation of seminarians and religious, the building of churches, faith education and more,” Mr Toutounji said.
“At the moment, the most pressing work of the Church in Sri Lanka is the burying of the dead and the consoling of the faithful, however, we want to be ready to support the Sri Lankan Bishops and the local Church to rebuild their places of worship and heal their wounds.”
Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said he was struggling following the Easter bombings in his country “because there are no words with which I can console my people”.
“I don’t know what to say to them. I try. I tried to go to their funerals and I tried to embrace them and tell them I am with them, but I have no words to say. I am suffering with them’,” he told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio as the death toll from attacks continued to rise.
By 24 April, more than 350 people – including 45 children – were confirmed dead and 500 others injured.
A national day of mourning was held on 23 April when the burials of the dead began.
To make a donation contact 1800 101 201 or go to www.aidtochurch.org/srilanka