Sailors salvage sacred shrine | Sunday Observer

Sailors salvage sacred shrine

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” - Martin Luther King

Sri Lanka remains in shock from the brutal Easter Sunday bombings at churches and five star hotels. The shrine dedicated to Saint Anthony has been part of the nation’s religious fabric for decades. The church of Saint Anthony was a symbol of multi cultural harmony- it was a house of prayer visited by millions, including the Pope. We were all terribly saddened to see a church being selected for a terrorist attack, for a church is God’s house where people come to pray, seeking solace and an upliftment of one’s faith. As the police and military continued their investigations the area was initially cordoned off.

I managed to drive past this venue on April 27, a sunny Saturday morning. I had previously written about this church in our Spectrum section just weeks ago. The area of Kochikade is normally a vibrant hub as devotees used to move about the precinct of the church.

The rows of shops selling religious artifacts of the Catholic denomination were closed.

The few old men who used to sell candles outside were absent. A sense of silence permeated the air. As if by divine coincidence I noticed a group of young sailors, attired in their PT kits moving into the church. Having navigated my way past the naval sentry I was able to see that the Navy had offered the efforts of 100 young sailors to clean up the church. It made me happy to realise that these young sailors came from all communities. It was a sign of hope and unity in this dark chapter of our motherland.

As I peeped inside the church there was a sense of ruin, as the once serene church was still filled with debris. Pieces of broken plaster, wood from the pews and tiles dislodged with high velocity from the roof. It was unbearable to see stains of human blood inside a church, for in the Bible we witness the immaculate blood of Jesus shed for the remission of our mortal sins. Amidst this sight of death and suffering there was an amazing sight. A marble statue of Jesus stood like a solitary spiritual sentinel, unscathed by the brutality of jihadist hatred for Jesus Christ overcame death on the cross of Calvary and offered everlasting life.

I reflected on the words of American civil rights activist Martin Luther King who once said ‘The time is always right to do what is right”. By now the sailors began picking up the debris. Ladders were placed against the pillars and men mounted with brushes. The carnage had damaged the beauty of this church. Residents and faithful devotees began to gather outside to witness this ongoing labour of love. Shortly some fire trucks of the navy moved near the premises. The crews rolled out the long latex water lines and slowly released water into the sanctuary, as their comrades began to brush the floors. Human blood stains were washed. Subsequently a kind of foam was used with a second round of intense scrubbing. The sailors got onto their knees drenched in the spray of water, a very touching sight. At a distance I noticed the parish priest Rev. Fr. Jude Fernando, but did not want to disturb him as he had endured this unthinkable tragedy in his church. The sailors worked without a break, some of them from the Buddhist faith. Gradually the signs of death and destruction were slowly removed. The sunlight filtered into the shrine, through the gaps in the ceiling. The bright rays of light seemed like a celestial signal that almighty God is in control. Having completed their task, soaked in water the young sailors from SLNS Ranagala (Colombo base) and SLNS Thakshila (Welisara base) mustered into two long lines and quietly exited the church, having shown the nation the ultimate form of teamwork, not desiring any acknowledgement. Navy Head Quarters subsequently confirmed that the cleaning task was the concept of Admiral Ravi Wijegunarante (Chief of Defence Staff) coordinated by Commander of the Navy Vice Admiral Piyal de Silva. We shall overcome.

This is our watch, let us unite in love, peace and hope to defend Sri Lanka. 

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