People sometimes do incomprehensibly horrible things, but prayer will eventually win out over hate.
Dominican Father Richard Litzau, pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center parish in Columbia, made that point again and again at a candlelight vigil for people affected by multiple Easter Sunday bombings of three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka.
“We are in the Easter Season, we’re about resurrection, we’re about life,” Fr. Litzau stated. “I think that’s what we need to focus on while we’re figuring out how to get through all the violence and all the evil. And one of the best ways to do that is through community prayer.”
The bombings — which included two Catholic churches and one Evangelical church, all filled with people worshipping God on Easter, and three hotels — left more than 300 people dead and more than 500 injured.
Sri Lankan graduate students from the University of Missouri and the Newman Center helped organize a silent, candlelight vigil in memory of the victims.
About 60 Catholics and other people of faith attended the April 26 evening vigil, held outside the Tiger Avenue entrance to the Newman Center on the University of Missouri campus.
“It’s better to do something together, in a holy way. That’s why we planned this,” Nureshan Dias, who is from Sri Lanka and helped organize the vigil, told Hannah Archambault, a reporter for the Columbia Missourian newspaper.
Fr. Litzau told the people at the vigil that praying together silently gives everyone a chance to grieve together while offering that grief up to God in each individual’s own way.
The Columbia Missourian reported that Mr. Dias and several other students spelled out “Pray For Sri Lanka” in candles and passed out homemade signs with messages including “We all mourn together” and printed signs of the Sri Lankan flag.
Chavinda Munasinghe, who is from Sri Lanka and attended the vigil, told the Columbia Missourian that he was terribly shocked and saddened after hearing about the bombing.
It was especially hard for him as he felt he couldn’t do anything from here, so far away from his homeland.
“Right now, the least I can do is keep them in my mind and give donations,” Mr. Munasinghe told the Columbia Missourian. “A few months before, it was like everyone can go anywhere. Now, everyone’s tensed up.”
Romayne Kurukulasuriya, who is from Sri Lanka and attended one of the churches that was bombed, told the Columbia Missourian that she couldn’t believe the news when she heard it.
“I just think that these things should not happen, because these are human beings. How could you kill another human being?” Ms. Kurukulasuriya said.
St. Thomas More Newman Center parishioner Gary Winter attended the vigil in solidarity with the people who were directly affected by the bombings.
“It was a horrible tragedy that happened on Easter in Sri Lanka,” he told The Catholic Missourian. “I think it’s a good thing whenever we can do something to publicly show that love is stronger than hate.”
In the course of about 25 minutes of silent prayer, Mr. Winter asked God for healing, peace and mercy for both the victims and the perpetrators.
“I prayed for those who passed away, for their families and for Christ to heal and forgive people who do commit such horrible acts, because they’re so consumed with hate,” he said.
He noted that Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who crucified Him.
“You know, Christ is love, and the way He acted throughout His time on earth brought more people to understand Who the Heavenly Father is than any of the other leaders in that time period,” said Mr. Winter.
Washing Judas’ feet
As of April 28, churches in Sri Lanka remained closed for safety.
April 23 was designated a national day of mourning in Sri Lanka, amid promises of prayer and pleas for justice.
Government officials of the island nation off the coast of India blamed the little-known Islamic group National Thowheeth Jama’ath for the bombings. Islamic State later claimed responsibility, but that claim could not be confirmed immediately.
Fr. Litzau told KRCG-TV reporter Mark Slavit that it was an outrage for such murderous acts to be carried out on a day set aside for celebrating resurrection and new life.
“Sometimes prayer is the only answer that we have,” he told the KRCG reporter. “Sometimes it’s the only thing in our toolbox. It’s prayer. And prayer wins the day.”
He said in an interview with The Catholic Missourian that “and every single day, we have on the news another mass murder. I think we just have to keep it in the front of our awareness and at the front of our prayers.”
And yes, he said, Easter is a good time to talk about mercy and forgiveness.
“If you read John’s account of the Last Supper very carefully, you see that Judas hasn’t left the table,” said Fr. Litzau. “So even though Peter gets all the attention, at some point, Jesus kneels down in front of Judas and washes his feet, too.”
Both men knew that Judas was about to betray Jesus, but Jesus washed his feet anyway — a gesture of love and forgiveness.
“In my mind, my heart, my world, if Jesus can forgive Judas, then He’s telling us that that’s how we need to live, too,” the priest stated.
Hope versus terror
In Jefferson City, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight on April 22 added his expression of deep sorrow to those of Pope Francis and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
“We entrust to the Lord’s tender mercies those who died,” said Bishop McKnight, “and we ask Him to console all who are suffering from this terrible act of violence, especially those who have been injured or who have lost loved ones. We pray for all the emergency responders, most especially those who are putting their own lives in danger.”
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the bombings a great evil.
“We offer our prayers for the victims and their families,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “And we join with all people of goodwill in condemning these acts of terrorism. This evil cannot overcome the hope found in our Savior’s resurrection. May the God of hope Who has raised His Son, fill all hearts with the desire for peace.”
The majority of those killed and injured are believed to be Sri Lankan nationals, many of whom were attending church services.
The government said those killed included at least 39 foreign nationals from the United States, United Kingdom, India, China, Japan, Turkey, Australia and other European countries.
In Vatican City, after his Easter Sunday blessing, Pope Francis expressed his deep sadness over the bombings in Sri Lanka.
The staff of Catholic News Service contributed to this article.