ACN supports Church trauma programmes

The international pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka in its efforts to assist the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place on Easter Sunday. In April of this year, Islamist suicide bombers claimed the lives of almost 300 people and injured more than 500 in three Christian churches as well as three hotels. Thanks to a large wave of solidarity throughout the country and from the Sri Lankan diaspora living abroad, as well as immediate relief measures from parts of the government, it has been possible to quickly rebuild the two Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Colombo that had been destroyed during the attacks.

Sri Lanka: Psychological and pastoral aid for victims of the attacks.

Sri Lanka: Psychological and pastoral aid for victims of the attacks.

The affected families immediately received medical and material aid. Many of them have not only lost a beloved family member, but also the sole breadwinner of the family, which means that they now face financial ruin. The Archdiocese of Colombo has begun to provide long-term, post-traumatic aid for the healing process and psychosocial assistance for the survivors and their families. ACN is providing the funding for this project.

There are many people who experienced the attacks directly and are now severely traumatised. Some have lost all members of their household. A large number of families are still taking care of their relatives, some of whom sustained severe injuries. To provide for their needs, the Archdiocese of Colombo has set up a team of 40 certified trauma therapists. They provide psychological care for grieving, injured and other severely traumatised people. Therapy programmes specifically geared towards children, families and people living alone are also in the planning stages. These programmes will benefit more than 2,000 people.

ACN supports Church trauma programmes.

ACN supports Church trauma programmes.

A large part of the aid provided by ACN will be used to train 300 consultants and social workers – also in the area of youth services – to ensure that they can identify traumatised people and support them in a manner appropriate to their needs. The Archdiocese of Colombo has grouped all of these measures within a programme entitled “Pain to the Cross and to the Blessed Sacrament”, as the focus is on coping with trauma and grief from a Christian perspective. The individualised care programme also includes a spiritual offer, such as a Bible-based session held under the motto, “Healing for the Wounds of the Heart”.

Fr. Malaka Leonard Fernando is the Minister Provincial of the Vice Province of our Lady of Lanka, Sri Lanka, of the Third Order Regular Franciscans. His residence is just half a kilometer from Katuwapitiya, where St. Sebastian’s Church was bombed. The Congregation also has a Friary just in front of St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya. Fortunately none of the friars were injured.

 When did you get the news about the bomb blasts?

On Easter Sunday, I said Mass at 7.00 am at a nearby church. And just after Mass I got the news of six blasts that took place within a short space of time; Katuwapitiya, Colombo-Kochchikade, Baticaloa and three hotels in Colombo city.

Fr. Malaka Leonard Fernando, Minister Provincial of the Vice Province of our Lady of Lanka, Sri Lanka, of the Third Order Regular Franciscans.

Fr. Malaka Leonard Fernando, Minister Provincial of the Vice Province of our Lady of Lanka, Sri Lanka, of the Third Order Regular Franciscans.

UNICEF registered more as 47 died children in the massacre. You also have a school (minor seminary) a few kilometers away from the city of Negombo.  What about the children, can they understand what is happened?

We Sri Lankans suffered enough from 30 years of war against terrorists. We thought that Sri Lanka was becoming a peaceful environment. But with these blasts, all our hope has gone. We are far away from peace. Today a considerable number of children have become victims of the blasts. Children are innocent. They are unable to understand what is happening. Most of the children are in fear. Schools are closed for a few days.

Is somebody from your relatives or the families of the children affected?

No, my relatives were not caught in the blast. But some very close friends were injured, and some killed.

St. Anthony´s Shrine after the deadly blasts secured by miliatry and police - damaged statues.

St. Anthony´s Shrine after the deadly blasts secured by miliatry and police – damaged statues.

What was the reaction of the Christians, are they in fear?

We never expected these kinds of incidents to happen in our country. On the one hand, Sri Lankan Christians always listen to their pastors. They do not harm others. On the other hand, most of the Christians are in fear. That is because only Christians were targeted by the attacks. But now the Police have continued carrying out raids and have arrested some people in connection with the attacks.

Did you take part in the funeral lastTuesday?

Yes. I did. Not only that; I asked all of our Friars (TOR Franciscans) to attend the funeral services.

What was the message of His Eminence?

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith expressed his grief at the explosions that occurred at three churches at Easter Sunday Mass. In his Message to the nation, Cardinal Ranjith invited the people to remain calm and asked them not to take the law into their own hands. His Eminence also expressed his deepest sympathies to the grieving families who lost their loved ones in the blasts, and wished a speedy recovery to the injured. His Eminence requested the public to be generous in donating blood at this hour of need.

St. Anthony´s Shrine after the deadly blasts secured by miliatry and police.

St. Anthony´s Shrine after the deadly blasts secured by miliatry and police.

What is your message for the world?

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” The way of peace is the path of love. St. Francis, our patron Saint, loved people and the nature alike. Let us take every possible step to avoid violence and live peacefully.

Do you know a prayer to our Lady of Lanka that we could share with our benefactors to pray for Sri Lanka?

 Thank you very much for your concern for our country. May God bless you! We recite the following prayer every day for our country (Sri Lanka):

“O Most Loving and Tender Mother, Queen and Patroness of Sri Lanka, we humbly ask you to look upon us, your children, in our hour of need. Dearest Mother, you have come to    our    rescue,     even     in     times     of     peril,     from     war     and     destruction. In your never failing love for us, we earnestly ask you, to dispel from our midst, waves of violence, killings and addictions, and various forms of evil actions to disrupt unity among people.

Help us to build in our land God’s Kingdom of Justice and Love. We entrust to your loving care and guidance all races and peoples of our country. Help us to bring about brotherhood, peace and unity in our society. Guide the destinies of our nation and obtain for us lasting peace so that all of us may live as brothers and sisters of one family. Amen.”

IN SRI LANKA, suicide bombers hit three churches and hotels in coordinated, near simultaneous attacks Easter morning that left 290 people dead, while wounding an estimated 500 more.

The series of bombings began at approximately 8.45 AM in the capital of Colombo with an explosion at St. Anthony Shrine, a historic church designated as the country’s national shrine. It is the country’s best-known Catholic church. Within about 45 minutes, a second Catholic church was hit, St. Sebastian’s, in Negomba, some 20 miles up the country’s western coast from Colombo. Subsequently, a bomb exploded at the Protestant Zion Church in Batticaloa, on the eastern coast.

During the same time period, there were explosions at three upscale hotels in Colombo that are popular with Westerners. There are several dozen foreigners among the dead. There are reports of two additional explosions in Colombo.

Valence Mendis, Bishop of Chilaw, Sri Lanka, May 2010.

Valence Mendis, Bishop of Chilaw, Sri Lanka, May 2010.

Reached by telephone, Bishop Warnakulasuriya Devsritha Valence Mendis of Chilaw told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that he condemned “the brutal attack, these acts of absolute violence that we cannot understand.” The bishop said the bombings were “totally unexpected” and that the country had been enjoying peaceful relations among the different faiths.

Buddhists account for 70 percent of the country’s population of 21 million; 13 percent are Hindus, with Christians making up some 10 percent. Sri Lankan Catholics number 1.3 million.
Most Catholics live in the western, coastal part of the country. “The area has many churches,” said Bishop Mendis, adding that St. Anthony’s Shrine attracts “people of all faiths,” with thousands of people visiting the shrine every day.

No group has claimed responsibility for the terror attacks, but there are some reports that Sri Lankan security officials had received warnings that there was a threat to churches, linked to the return to Sri Lanka of ISIS fighters. Indian officials said the coordinated explosions targeting crowded urban settings are typical of the terror method of ISIS.

Pope Francis, after celebrating Mass Easter Sunday, called the bombings “horrendous” and conveyed his “heartfelt closeness to the Christian community, attacked while gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such a cruel act of violence.”

After Sunday Mass, Diocese of Anuradhapura , Sri Lanka, May 2010.

After Sunday Mass, Diocese of Anuradhapura , Sri Lanka, May 2010.

Noting that people of various faiths died in the attacks on the hotels, Bishop Mendis labeled the terrorist strikes “a crime against humanity.” “Our Easter joy was taken away from us,” he said and Easter Sunday “became a day of mourning.” The bishop expressed confidence that “our people will face the future with courage and faith.” In a message to ACN donors, Bishop Mendis said that “we need your prayers that peace and harmony may be restored to our country.” He concluded: “As an act of solidarity, we must pray for all Christians who are suffering because of their faith.”

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Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.