Photo Credit: Lambeth Palace
[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, knelt in respect at the spot where a suicide bomber detonated explosives at St Sebastian’s church in Negombo as part of a three-day visit to Sri Lanka at the end of August.
Demonstrating his solidarity with the Sri Lankan people following the Easter Day bombings he visited the seaside town of Negombo where more than 100 people died on 21 April 2019. A total of 263 people were killed when seven suicide bombers attacked three churches and three luxury hotels on the same day.
Kneeling over the pockmarked area where the explosives were set off during Easter Mass and pointing to a blood splattered statue of Risen Christ kept in a glass enclosure, the Archbishop said: “When I see this statue, this image of Christ covered with the blood of the martyrs; I know by that the courage, your faith and your love. I see the true Christ. Not the Christ who is distant and clean but the Christ who is covered his own and our blood.”
In his message at the church he quoted a sermon by Pope Francis’s personal preacher delivered to Queen Elizabeth some years ago. “When they come to kill us do they ask if we are Anglicans or Pentecost or Presbyterian or Catholic? They ask only if we are Christian… So when on Easter morning I heard of the terrible events in this church and other places in Sri Lanka, we knew that our sisters and brothers have been killed and wounded and we kept silence and prayed for you,” he told the congregation.
Justin Welby also thanked the Sri Lankan Christians for displaying restraint after the carnage. He said: “To come before you, I am almost without words; for I can only say thank you to the Christians of Sri Lanka. We know that the Christ who on the cross said, ‘Father forgive’ know our anger, your pain, your sorrow and we know that through his resurrection even that anger and sorrow and pain will be transformed in purity to hope.”
The Archbishop laid white roses near a plaque with the names of those killed.
After joining in a prayer service with the Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church of Sri Lanka, Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop and Mrs Caroline Welby met families of victims of the attack.
He said: “It was deeply humbling to meet children who survived the attacks. They came up to us one by one. The way they walked, smiled and welcomed us was a triumph of courage. It breaks your heart, but lifts your faith. It celebrates hope and the future. To be with those of such courage is overwhelming.” He urged fellow Christians to join him in praying for a peaceful future for the people of Sri Lanka.
He also met with the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader later in the day and attended a special meeting with heads of churches and interfaith leaders in Colombo, before presiding at a special Eucharist service in the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour in the evening.
The visit ended on Friday 30 August when he visited the Diocese of Kurunegala and Kandy and met with church leaders and members. The Archbishop also met theological students and staff at the Theological College of Pilimatalawa before taking part in a service at Kurunegala’s Cathedral of Christ the King.
The Archbishop left Sri Lanka on 31 August to begin his 10-day visit to the churches of North and South India.