He was chopping firewood outside St. Patrick’s Parish in Vancouver when he heard the news: bombs were going off at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday morning.
“The minute I heard that, I froze,” said Hareen Kaththotage.
Originally from Sri Lanka, he was horrified to learn through a news app on his phone that suicide bombers had targeted two well-known Catholic churches in Colombo and Negombo, as well as an Evangelical church and several hotels and residences. He dialed his parents in Sri Lanka immediately.
“One of the bombs went off about two kilometers away from where they live,” but they were fine. His parents also noticed police raiding an apartment building nearby and, they told him, found undetonated explosives there.
Kaththotage, who moved to Vancouver a few years ago, was shaken. In 2009, his country had left a 26-year civil war behind.
“Suicide bombing was a day-to-day thing,” in the “dark days,” he said. “Things were just getting normal.”
He contacted his friends in Sri Lanka to find out if they were okay; three days after the attack, two still had not responded to any of his messages.
In an effort to help his battered homeland, Kaththotage launched a GoFundMe page hoping to raise funds to send directly to bishops in the Archdiocese of Colombo, which runs one of the two bombed-out churches: St. Anthony’s. He has a connection through a close family friend.
“My priority one is for the orphaned children who lost their parents because of these bombs,” he said. He also hopes the funds can help families with the costs of funerals, and possibly even extend to the injured or to repairs of St. Anthony’s.
Surrey resident Mydhili Furtado, also from Sri Lanka, was also in shock when she heard the news, and extremely grateful to learn her family members were all safe.
fond memories of St. Anthony's, now blood-spattered and covered in splinters.
“St. Anthony's Church is very popular with the locals and all denominations used to visit,” she said. “My mom and grandmother were Hindu, but they loved praying at that church.”
Furtado, who fled her country during the 1983-2009 civil war, said the Easter Sunday violence has been seen as religiously motivated, though she believes it is political.
“Many civilians paid with their lives, and so did many tourists,” she said. “My heart goes out to all who had loved ones killed.”
The death toll now sits at 359, with another 500 injured. ISIS has claimed responsibility.
Update April 25:
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a joint statement with the Canadian Council of Imams condemning the violence in Sri Lanka.
"Both our religious traditions speak of peace, love, and justice for all humanity. It is abhorrent to see the people of Sri Lanka, whether gathered to worship on the feast of Easter, or with family and friends in hotels, subjected to acts of hate and complete disregard for human life. As faith communities in Canada, we stand together, offering our condolences and prayers for all the victims of this terrorist attack and with a united voice rejecting all forms of hatred, violence, and discord."
Vancouver's Jewish community has also said it stands in solidarity with Sri Lanka. In a press release, they wrote: "The Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver share the shock and horror felt around the world in response to the devastating attacks on Christians in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday... These attacks remind us of why we must stand together against all forms of hatred. On behalf of the organized Jewish community, we reach out to you in empathy, offering our heartfelt condolences to all who have lost loved ones, and we offer our best wishes for the full recovery of those injured."
Read more about the Easter Sunday attacks here.
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