Shenobe Charles recalls the heartbreaking sound of the explosion that a year ago today shook the Church of Saint Anthony in Colombo, knocked it to the ground, and left the iconic temple on fire. His first reaction was to look for Mary, his mother.
Mary is now one of 269 fatalities in the chain attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels that rocked Sri Lanka a year ago on Easter Sunday, also leaving more than 500 wounded.
His daughter, the Christian community and the island nation mark on Tuesday the first anniversary of traumatic attacks led by the local Islamist gang National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) and claimed by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).
But, in spite of themselves, they have been forced to pay tribute without great solemn acts or the embrace of the community, the result of the restrictions imposed to stop the expansion of the coronavirus in a country that has about 240 cases and seven deaths.
A DESPERATE CAREER TO THE HOSPITAL
That fateful day Charles visited the temple with 18 family members. After the explosion, she desperately searched for her mother, whom she found unconscious: she was bleeding from her nose and ears, she recalls.
“We had a hard time getting her out of the church, she weighed a lot. By the time we got it, chaos was rampant outside. We couldn’t find an ambulance, so we put her in a vehicle and took her to the hospital,” explains this 25-year-old girl. .
When they left behind the white walls of San Antonio and the cranes of the capital’s port, Mary was still unconscious but alive. He did not arrive at the hospital.
The name of this 47-year-old mother with three children is now 25th out of 57 included in a monument erected in the church to remember those who “gave their lives for God.”
ALL EVENTS CANCELED
Mary’s family planned to go to the special mass organized by the Church to commemorate that devastating day, distribute food in a nursing home and end the day with an intimate dinner among those close to them.
“All of these events have been canceled because of the ongoing pandemic. All we are going to do now is feed the elderly,” said Charles.
The archbishopric has been forced to cancel the series of commemorative events
All the churches and temples in the country were called, at the request of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, to ring the bells at dawn, followed by two minutes of silence and a special program then for all parishioners at 8.45 local time (2.45 GMT), the same hour in which, in a coordinated manner, the explosions occurred.
Sri Lankan authorities attributed the attacks to the little-known local NTJ formation, which the IS claimed.
Those attacks raised doubts about the ability of the security organs to act, since the authorities had received intelligence before the attacks but did not act accordingly.
Police spokesman for the Asian nation, Jaliya Senaratne, said last week at a press conference that the investigation continues but they hope to conclude it soon.
Currently, the criminal investigations department has detained 119 suspects, forty of whom are still detained, for their alleged participation in the attacks. The anti-terror division has detained another 78 people.
A COUNTRY TWICE TIMES PARALLY
The attacks in this Buddhist-majority country opened a deep wound in the Christian minority and unleashed uncertainty for possible retaliation among the Muslim community. But they also impacted a rising tourism sector on this island paradise since the end, more than a decade ago, of the civil war against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).
With 40 foreigners killed in the attacks, the number of tourists fell 70% in May 2019 compared to the month before the attacks, and throughout the year there were 1.9 million visits, 18% less than in 2018.
“Our tourism industry was recovering from the attacks. Now that we were returning to almost normal, the pandemic has come,” tourism specialist Srilal Mittapala told Efe.
The island is in an undefined curfew state with high-risk classified areas under confinement, and according to Mittapala this situation could cause an even greater injury to the tourism industry.
“Even if Sri Lanka recovers, the world will have to strike a balance before tourism recovers as well,” he said, as the tourism and hospitality sector negotiated an aid package with the government.
The country is on hiatus, and only services deemed essential, such as sanitation, work.
Charles was also, for a long time, paralyzed. As the young woman was now preparing to organize the food distribution in honor of her mother, she recalls that it took her six months to return to church. Finally, he overcame fear.