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Keeping the faith

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By Chandani Kirinde 

The newly-painted white walls at the St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade shine bright. The newly-installed church pews bear no marks of the devastation of less than eight weeks ago when a suicide bomber struck inside the much-revered place of worship, causing murder and mayhem. 

On Wednesday, those injured in the attack as well as those who lost their loved ones gathered at the shrine for a service to mark the ‘Rite of Reconsecration of the Shrine’ at a service led by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

For many it’s a painful journey back to the church where they had gathered on Easter Sunday morning, to get the blessings of St. Anthony. Instead, many of their lives were changed irreparably that day.

Peter Christopher (35) had sat on one of the pews to the rear end of the church with his wife and four-year-old daughter on the fateful day, close to where the blast took place.

On Wednesday, he walked into St. Anthony’s for the reconsecration ceremony with the help of crutches, along with his four-year-old daughter Anita Lancy. His wife was one of the 54 worshippers killed in the blast.

“As I sat down on the pew today, I remembered my wife. I miss her,” a tearful Christopher said. His daughter is yet to grasp the severity of what has happened but her first words as they came into the church were, “This is where the blast happened.”

For Christopher, St. Anthony’s Shrine holds a personally important memory. It was here that he first met his future wife Iraday Mary.

“I am an ardent believer of St. Anthony’s and I have been visiting the shrine for the last 20 years. For several years, my wife and I came together but now I am left alone without her.”

Seated on the last pew of the church, Christopher’s family felt the full impact of the blast. He was blown away by the impact and only woke up when his daughter kept calling for him. When he woke, he saw his wife’s motionless body lying close by.

However painful the memories maybe, Christopher has not lost faith in God. “I will always come here without any fear.”

Virgin Mary too was seated with her husband and daughter close to where the bomber struck. She made it the reconsecration service in a wheelchair, both her legs in plaster, having been fractured in the explosion.

“I have no recollection of what happened. There was some sound which I thought was crackers. We were in a haze but managed to go out of the building and get a three-wheeler to the hospital,” she recalled.

Despite the bitter experience, Mary says she has no fear of coming back to the church. “I am sad because so many people died that day but I have no fear and will continue to come to church.”

At the Rite of Reconsecration of the shrine, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith anointed the Altar and the walls of the church, walking up to each column inside the church as church bells pealed. In his prayers for the faithful, the Cardinal said they would never forget those who lost their lives and were injured in the Easter Day attacks, nor the family members who have to bear the pain of losing their loved ones in such a tragic manner.

“We will never forget them. For us, they are all saints. We will also not forget the injured and family members of those affected in the attacks. We pray to St. Anthony to help us to restore peace and coexistence in this country. We call to St. Anthony for this national miracle.”

At the shrine, a small chamber dedicated to the 54 victims who died there has been made as a permanent fixture. On it are inscribed the names of all the victims with the words, “They laid down their lives for God” on 21st April 2019 at 8.45 a.m. On either side of the plaque bearing the names are words taken from the Book of Genesis 4:10: ‘The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”’ The words are written in all three languages.

As the devotees walked into the church as it opened its doors once again, the floor close to where the suicide bomber blew himself up bears the marks that will remain as a reminder of the tragedy that befell St. Anthony’s Shrine on 21 April 2019.

Pix by Chamila Karunarathne

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