By Tim Harfmann
The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanaka are still fresh on the minds of Catholic priests who knew the terror targets well. “There were so many calls [on my phone] from Sri Lanka, from my family. I immediately thought, ‘oh, this is not good,” said Father Nalaka Silva, coordinator of the Sri Lankan Catholic Community of New York and New Jersey.
The horrific news still left him emotional days later. “I was shocked. I’m in a lot of pain because we have the connection with our people where we have their Masses. It’s so painful,” Father Nalaka said tearfully.
Another priest from Sri Lanka understood the pain. Father Vasanthakumar Sebamalai, known as Father Vasan Kumar, ministers to Catholics at Our Lady of Solace Church in the Bronx.
Father Vasan was once assigned to Sri Lanka’s Saint Anthony Shrine and Saint Sebastian — two of the bomb-targeted churches. “My heart is breaking. My heart is burning. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t do anything,” said Father Vasan. His family is safe, but knew parishioners who died when the bombs exploded; “Innocent people died. They didn’t know what to do. They just went for the Mass to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The Bronx priest called them martyrs — those who die for their faith. Among them were children. “Young children… they don’t know of their actual innocence. They are going to be the angels,” said Father Vasan.
Father Nalaka knows the Saint Anthony Shrine, too. He worked at the church for four years. His family is also safe. Father Nalaka visited his homeland in January and is worried about his parishioners; “As a Catholic priest, wherever we go — even just for one day — we have our special connection.”
As Christians continue to bury their loved ones in Sri Lanka, Father Nalaka called for peace; “We are Christians; and we believe in love more than anything else. So, it is time to be patient.” Love and patience — two virtues the local priests hoped will stem the deadly violence in their homeland.