Memorial Masses were celebrated in several churches in New Zealand for the victims of the Easter bombing attacks at churches and top-end hotels in Sri Lanka, which killed at least 250 people and wounded an estimated 500 others.
Masses were celebrated at St Therese’s church (Three Kings) and St Mary’s church (Northcote) in Auckland, the Catholic Parish of Sts Peter and Paul (Lower Hutt) in Wellington and St Teresa of Lisieux church (Riccarton) in Christchurch.
In Sri Lanka, Sunday Masses were cancelled by Catholic Church leaders who said they didn’t want a repetition of the deadly attacks.
In a video played at the Mass at Northcote on April 27, Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith stated that they were “organising TV and radio Masses” that were to be “beamed live all over Sri Lanka”.
The Northcote Mass was attended by 300 people, mostly Sri Lankans.
Yushani Perera, who attended the St Mary’s Mass, said her uncle, Remigius Perera, was killed in the attack at St Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade, Colombo.
“He’s a very devoted Catholic, so he goes to the Kochchikade church very regularly. He was there. My parents, the family in Sri Lanka, received a call saying come to the regional hospital,” she told NZ Catholic.
“At that time, my family was already upset. They knew he was in church, but he wasn’t calling or anything. So, it was a panic situation. A few hours later, we heard that he was one of the victims,” she added.
Dinesh Perera (no relation), an accountant with Auckland diocese, said he and his family were on their way to Mt Maunganui for Easter celebrations when he received a call from his mother in Sri Lanka.
“We received a call from my mum around 4pm (NZ time) on (Easter) Sunday, saying that they just came home from church and there were several bomb blasts in many other churches,” he said.
“We were shocked to hear the news and from that moment, the holiday became a fact-finding journey and contacting friends and relatives to ensure that they are safe. We all were glued to mobile phones, computers and news channels and ended up staying in the motel the entire holiday.”
Northcote parish assistant priest Fr Jude Algama, who is also from Sri Lanka, said the country had been enjoying relative peace in the past ten years, after 30 years of civil war.
“So, little by little, we enjoyed peace. All of a sudden, this happened. This violence again erupted. It’s a shock. It’s difficult to put into words,” he said. Fr Algama was principal celebrant at the Mass.
Auckland vicar-general Msgr Bernard Kiely, in his homily, assured the Sri Lankan community of the Church’s love and support.
“How, in God’s name, can people commit such atrocities in God’s name? However we might refer to or call God, whatever our faith background, surely at this time, we must hear the voice of God, an enraged voice of God, cry out, ‘not in my name. Not in my name’,” he said.
“In many ways, I think it’s important for us as Church, not just the Christian churches, but religious leaders everywhere, to speak up and not allow extremist[s] or terrorists [to] dictate or determine our relationship with people of other faiths. Peace be with you. We can all relate to that, no matter where we are or where we are from,” Msgr Kiely added.
Police officers also attended the Mass to show support for the Sri Lankan community.
“It’s just so shocking. I’m originally from Ireland myself, so I know what it’s like to come from a country where struggle, bombs and people dying, all in the name of God. Like the father (Msgr Kiely) said, not in his name. That’s what everybody feels right now,” said Inspector Trevor Beggs, Waitemata district road policing manager.
In Wellington, the United Sri Lanka Association coordinated the celebration of a Memorial Mass at Lower Hutt on April 27.
Palitha de Silva, QSM, president of the organisation, said the people “needed to gather and [get] reassurance” and lift “a little of that weight”.
Although Mr de Silva is a Buddhist, he said he had fond memories of St Anthony’s in Colombo.
“It used to be a social thing for us,” Mr de Silva said, explaining how religion never interfered with friendships. “I would go to their Christmas Masses and they would go to our temple sometimes.”
“Everyone is doing the right thing by promoting the message of peace. Unfortunately, it’s not the majority that’s the problem,” he noted.
The Lower Hutt Mass, attended by more than 300 people, was celebrated by Fr Peter Roe, SM.
Around the same number of people attended the Mass celebrated by Fr Michael Therese Scheerger, CSJ, at St Teresa of Lisieux church in Riccarton, Christchurch, on April 25.
Canta Lankan Association committee member Salinda Lekamge said the Mass was celebrated in memory of the victims who died and for the speedy recovery of those who were injured.
“Being far away from the motherland . . . a Mass or a service is a good way to show them we are still with them and that they are in our thoughts and prayers,” Mr Lekamge said.
Mr Lekamge said one of his Sri Lankan friends, now living in New Zealand, used to go to St Sebastian’s church in Negombo, another church that was attacked.
“He knew every pew and wall of that church. The people who attended the Mass were people from his village,” Mr Lekamge added.
Mr Lekamge said that, as a group, they are trying to raise funds to help support the families of the victims.
“We have published our bank account details on our facebook page. Those who would like to help can send us a message. We are partnering with reputable charitable institutions in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Cardinal Ranjith said many people from overseas had been asking him how they could help. So the Archdiocese of Colombo decided to set up a special fund that will be administered by Caritas Colombo.
Those who would like to help can send funds to the: Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC; branch: Borella; account name: Archbishop of Colombo; account number: 1190038741; swift code: CCEYLKLX.
The cardinal said the donors can request that their donations go to the reconstruction of the churches or for the victims’ families.