Fr. Fernando and others began taking wounded men, women and children to hospitals. “Almost all of them were in critical condition; some of them died on the way; others would die in intensive care units,” he said.
He said that the archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, took immediate steps to maintain a peaceful atmosphere in the area.
“He asked all Catholics in Sri Lanka not to seek revenge or to get involved in any mode of violence against Muslims brothers,” Fernando said.
In the wake of the violence, he said, religious unity in the country was “strengthened immensely.”
He said that although the Easter attack made headlines around the world, there have been other persecutions due to social and cultural misunderstandings. Assaults have been carried out by Buddhist nationalists, and there has also been a rise in attacks by Hindu extremists. A Buddhist mob threatened a Methodist congregation as recently as Palm Sunday 2019. In addition to outright attacks on churches, anti-Christian harassment and discrimination include denial of burial in public cemeteries and refusal to enroll Christian children in school.
Part of the problem stems from the actions of certain fundamentalist Christians themselves, some of whom conduct evangelization efforts in such a way that provoke non-Christians, Fernando said.
“Some Protestant communities go into the Buddhist communities to convert them by giving money,” he said in an interview. Fundamentalists sometimes discourage local residents from using modern medicine. In one case Fernando cited, a family member got sick, and the church people discouraged the person’s family from taking her to the doctor. “We will pray,” they said. “Jesus is a healer, and she will be healed.” The sick person died the next day.
He said that Negombo, where one of the blasts took place, is a mainly Catholic area, evangelized by his Franciscan forebears 100 years ago. Nearby is a Muslim community. But there are extremists there who are seeking conflict between Muslims and Christians.
“We must not allow this to happen. We must work hard together to bring healing,” he said, calling for more of the kind of interfaith dialogue in which he is engaged. “It helps a lot to maintain peace and harmony and unity among the different religious and ethnic groups,” he said.