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Editorial: Prayers for Sri Lanka

A blood-stained statue of Christ is seen after a bombing at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019. At least 200 people were killed and hundreds more injured on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka when attackers unleashed an apparently coordinated series of bombings that simultaneously targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels. (CNS photo/Reuters)

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In June 2018, for the ninth year in a row, the Pew Research Center released a study on global restrictions on religion. In it, Christians were identified as the most persecuted religion in the world, with the number of countries where Christians were harassed mostly growing in number from 2009 to 2016, the time of the most recent data.

Based on recent events, these sobering statistics aren’t likely to change soon.

On Easter Sunday, a day of joy and celebration for Christians around the world, hearts were stunned and then broken as news of a series of terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka — three of them at Catholic churches during Mass — traveled across the globe. More than 320 lives were lost, hundreds more were wounded, and we likely never will know the full extent of the damage. As of Tuesday, government officials from Sri Lanka had indicated that the blasts may have been carried out in response to the March attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by a white nationalist. The Islamic State also released a statement taking responsibility.

Sadly, this is not the first attack perpetrated against Christians on or around Easter — not even close. In a post on April 22, Catholic News Service listed five other incidents against Christians carried out by extremists on or around Easter Sunday from 2012 to 2018, most recently last year in Pakistan.

In a flurry of heartfelt statements this week, Pope Francis and many other Church leaders decried the horrific events in the island nation. But statements, well-meaning as they are, feel empty and inadequate when countered with stories of children being blown up while in line to receive Communion. Powerful, too, was a photograph of a statue of the resurrected Christ from St. Sebastian Church in Negombo that quickly became an icon of the tragedy. Included in many news reports after the explosions, the triumphant Jesus, clothed in white with an arm raised in victory, is still standing — yet splattered with blood. On Easter morning, time seemed to move backwards into the incomprehensible and devastating suffering and death of Good Friday.

The Easter attacks bookended a painful Holy Week for the Church that began with the nearly devastating fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. As the fire blazed, the world witnessed a remarkable coming-together: a universal sadness that centered, not on the loss of human life, but on a beloved centuries-old structure. Six days later, the world froze again as blast after blast devastated Sri Lanka and three communities of faith. It can only be hoped that the outpouring of generosity and prayers that formed the response to the fire at Notre Dame will be matched in Sri Lanka, where so much more than a building was affected.

As we seek a path forward, Christians around the world must together find ways to stand up for and protect religious freedom. We must strive to stay informed and speak out against persecution of Christians and, indeed, all peoples of faith. Any violence should be swiftly and categorically condemned, especially violence that targets houses of worship, as seen all too often, both domestically and internationally, in recent years. Though it may seem small, at times such as these, we can take some measure of consolation in the assurance that our Catholic faith means something — and something not insignificant. Our art and architecture touches the hearts of even the nonreligious; our beliefs are thought significant enough to draw blood. That is not nothing.

Please pray for the people of Sri Lanka, for our Church and for all who feel the need to perpetrate such devastating acts of violence against the innocent.

OSV Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young

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