By Hassina Leelarathna in LA, California
The Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese joined Sri Lankan Catholics, Buddhists, and Muslims at a packed interfaith solidarity meeting Tuesday (23 April) at a church in Lomita in Los Angeles County to honour the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks.
The hastily organised meeting, widely publicised on social media, drew hundreds, a rare occurrence on a weekday evening.
Father Alexei Smith representing the Archdiocese called the attacks at several Catholic churches “appalling and onerous for Christians” and said worshippers were “martyred for their faith.” That it happened on Easter makes it even more reprehensible, he said, adding, “This has to stop…” He urged the congregation not to let the “light that shines in this darkness and our love” be extinguished.
Fr. Smith reminded the audience that Los Archbishop José Horacio Gómez had delivered a special mass on Easter Sunday to pray for the Sri Lankan victims. Addressing 10,000 congregants, the archbishop had called for “the conversion of every heart that is hardened by hatred.”
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is numerically the single largest diocese in the United States, serving a population of 11.6 million in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties.
Fr. Damien Fernando, well-known religious leader in the Sri Lankan expatriate community, said Catholics in Sri Lanka had lived in harmony with all religions and that there is “unbearable pain” following the attacks. “We have no answers, but we must share the pain,” he added, urging congregants to come to the point where they can fully forgive the perpetrators of the attacks.
Ven. Apparekke Punyasiri representing the Buddhist community echoed similar sentiments calling for unity and forgiveness. “We are all heartbroken” he said, adding that it is natural to find fault with the perpetrators at such times. The purpose of terrorists is to generate hatred and anger. “Are we going to allow that seed to grow or are we going to heal our wounds?” he asked, adding that, as Buddhists who practice metta, “The option is in us.”
Muslims representing the Islamic Center of South Bay participated in full force, several of them visibly moved, wiping tears.
Mohamed Sabah speaking for the Center said Sri Lanka was known for inclusiveness and “being together” in the face of tragedy. “We regret this evil act of terror which has no place in society,” he said observing that “extremists are competing with each other” to create havoc. He extended condolences to the families of the “innocent” victims and recited dua (prayer) for peace in Sri Lanka.
Kanthi Edirisinghe, lead event organiser, noted that the get-together commemorated not only Sri Lankan victims but also Americans and citizens of several countries. “Today our prayers and compassion extend beyond geographical boundaries, beyond any one religion or ethnicity,” adding, “We stand united as one people [in] mourning.”
Saxophonist Vernon Fernando, originally from Negombo and mourning the death of his cousin Manel Fernando who was killed along with her 10-yeard old grandson while attending mass, gave a plaintive rendition of the hymn “Nearer my God to Thee.”
Eranthi Jayawardane, second-generation Sri Lankan-American, delivered the moving hymn “Sevanili matha” while people were solemnly lining up to light candles arranged to form “320” – the number of known fatalities at the time.
Other key players at the Tuesday event were Catholic activists Dilani Ubayasiri and Shiranthi Silva of Southern California.