Rebuilding from tragedy | Sunday Observer

Rebuilding from tragedy

The reconstruction of the churches hit by the Easter Sunday tragedy is underway, marking the beginning of a long walk towards normalcy

Almost a month after the horrific Easter Sunday attack spread tremors through the country, life is now picking up, one brick at a time. Reconstruction of the churches where the atrocities took place has already begun, which is an important aspect of returning to normalcy, especially for the devotees belonging to the respective parishes.

The reconstruction of the St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade is expected to be completed by May 31, said Administrator-Land and Properties, Archdiocese of Colombo, Rev. Father Gihan Riddley. He added that reconstruction at St Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya and Zion Church, Batticaloa is also in progress, with the reconstruction of the former expected to be completed by end June. “The construction is funded by the Government, with the Sri Lanka Army providing manual labour for the reconstruction of St. Sebastian’s and Zion churches, and the Sri Lanka Navy providing labour for the reconstruction of the St. Anthony’s Shrine. The exact costs are still being estimated but the cost for the Zion Church will be approximately Rs. 28 million,” he said.

Altogether, over 200 lives were lost at the three churches and some 500 more were injured while attending Easter Mass, with over 100 being killed at St. Sebastian’s Church, the hardest hit of them all. Both St. Sebastian’s Church and St. Anthony’s Shrine were venerated by Christians, Hindus and Buddhists for miracle powers of healing and wealth generation, respectively.

Following the Easter Sunday attacks, stories of the horrific moment within the churches were recounted by the survivors.

These include tales of tragic deaths intertwined with tales of miraculous survivals. At St. Sebastian’s Church, many children are said to have been saved as they had changed their original seats after communion. As soon as the blast went off, Enid Fernando, a survivor, from the St. Sebastian’s Church, had reacted by spreading her hands heavenwards and uttering the anguished cry, “why Jesus, why?” She recalls how the shell shocked survivors stood immobile amidst the carnage until outsiders rushed in to help.

For some of these survivors, it is a continuous battle to come to terms with the fact that their loved ones were lost at the very church they frequented. “My husband and I were together in the choir, this was the church where we married and now this is where he had to finally die,” said Geetha Antonette from Katuwapitiya, who lost her husband in the Easter Sunday blast at St. Sebastian’s Church.

Memories of that final day spent as a family floods back when she attends Mass now. “I remember him when I go to church now, it is unbearable. On the morning of Easter Sunday all he wanted to do was to go to church. Throughout the mass he was thanking God for enabling the five of us to be together in church that day,” she told the Sunday Observer.

Geetha added that her husband was paralysed during the Easter celebrations last year, explaining why this year was so special for them. Now she is left with her three school going children. “We were a very loving family, so it’s still unreal to know that he is not with us anymore,” she said, gesturing to the final photo taken of them, a few days prior to the attack.

As a tribute to the victims of the Easter Sunday attack, a damaged tile and part of the wall damaged with a ball bearing from the blast will be preserved at St. Sebastian’s Church, while one part of a damaged pillar and a wall will be preserved at the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Rev. Riddley said.

He added that monuments holding names of the victims of the tragedy will be built at both St. Sebastian’ Church and St. Anthony’s Shrine. “The monument commemorating the victims of St. Sebastian’s Church will be built in the courtyard, near the verandah where the suicide bomber entered the church from, while at St. Anthony’s Shrine the monument will be built inside a room,” Rev. Riddley said.

The churches will be rebuilt as per the original structures, with certain upgrades. The panes of the damaged windows of the St. Sebastian’s Church, earlier adorned with coloured tinted glass, are to be replaced with stained glass from Italy, according to instructions from the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

“A two-storied parish community hall and a building housing a toilet system will also be built,” he said. Meanwhile, St. Anthony’s Shrine will undergo a second phase of construction, where a new building housing a soup kitchen and a museum will be built, Rev. Riddley added. The construction will take approximately three months.

The Shrine is partially open for prayer following the attack, while St. Sebastian’s Church held it’s first Mass following the tragedy on Thursday May 09.

The reconstruction process is guided by the Department of Archaeology, Ministry of Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs, State Engineering Corporation and the Disaster Management Committee headed by the Archbishop of Colombo.

The interior of the St. Sebastian’s Church is now full of scaffolding, and in a few weeks most physical signs of the tragedy will disappear. But, invisible scars will remain to haunt many devotees for a while.

“Churches will be rebuilt, but some of the faces that attended the church will never come back,” said a devotee who wished to remain anonymous.

Psycho social and pastoral support will be provided for the survivors of the Easter Sunday attack, including spiritual, trauma and social counselling, to help them move on from their loss, Director of Seth Sarana Caritas Colombo, Rev. Lawrence Ramanayake told the Sunday Observer. “Immediate, mid term and long term counselling will be provided at both village and family level,” he said.



[A message of unity]

A group of bhikkhus were seen cleaning the outer courtyard of the St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya on Wednesday May 8. The gesture was aimed at promoting inter-religious harmony among the communities,the leader of the delegation, Chief Incumbent of the Baddegama,Gothatuwa Sri Pada Chaithyaramaya, Venerable Baddegama Samitha Thera told the Sunday Observer.

“ Thirty six bhikkhus , both young and old from Baddegama, Galle discussed how to share the grief of our Christian brethren following the Easter Sunday attack. We wanted to do a ‘shramadana’ and help them, rather than offering words of condolence,” Ven. Samitha thera said.

The concept of shramadana was chosen because it’s unusual for bhikkhus to be engaged in such activities, he said. He added that most of the cleaning was already done by the Army but they were happy to have passed on this message of unity.He also disclosed plans to visit the Zion Church, as well as Islamic religious leaders, in a similar gesture of unity.

Christianity, although introduced by the Western world, has now integrated well into the Sri Lankan culture and identity by having services in Sinhala and Tamil, and incorporating certain Sri Lankan elements into their format, he said.

“I want to request the Islamic community to do the same, to integrate into the existing Sri Lankan culture and identity without focusing on Arabisation, to spread peace and unity among the different religious and racial groups in the country,”. Samitha thera said.