Fri | Jul 10, 2020

Anxiety, hope as church schools wait to reopen in Sri Lanka

Published:Saturday | May 18, 2019 | 12:00 AM

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP):

Catholic officials and parents in Sri Lanka are hopeful that church-run schools will begin to reopen soon for the first time since last month’s devastating Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels.

All of the island nation’s schools were set to reopen the day after the bombings following a two-week break, but they remained closed after the attacks, which killed more than 250 people and injured hundreds more. Government schools reopened last week, but many children stayed home, fearing another attack.

Catholic schools, however, have stayed shut, but worried that other Catholic properties could be targeted in further attacks.

In a memo to Catholic institutions earlier this month, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, said he had information from a trusted foreign source that a famous church and a lay institution were to be attacked. The church confirmed that the memo, which first appeared on social media, was authentic.

On Sunday, the Catholic Church held the first regular Sunday Mass since the April 21 coordinated suicide bombings, amid tight security. Sunday services had been cancelled the two previous weekends apprehensive of more attacks, leaving the faithful to hear Mass via live TV transmission from Ranjith’s residence.

Later Sunday, Ranjith gave Sri Lanka’s Catholic school administrators permission to reopen on an individual basis in coordination with local security officials.

Rangika Perera, a teacher in a Catholic school where her daughter also studies, said reopening the schools and churches was the best way to demonstrate that Sri Lanka’s Catholics hadn’t been defeated by terrorism.

“They want to deprive us in every way and we should not help them succeed by our fear,” she said.

The Rev Ivan Perera, the priest in charge of Sri Lanka’s Catholic schools, said that Catholic school administrators have sent study packs to children by email with exercises on a variety of subjects, but that the toll has been more than academic.

Priests and nuns working as counsellors said Catholic school students “are very traumatised and are very disturbed, a lot of fear in them,” according to the Rev Perera.

“It will take quite a bit of time for them to get back to normal attitudes. It’s very unfortunate that at this age children should be so traumatised and be full of fear,” he said, adding that when schools reopen, administrators will offer students psychological and spiritual help.

The Easter attacks — which were carried out by radicalized local Muslims and claimed by the Islamic State group — targeted three churches: Sri Lanka’s famous St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the capital; St Sebastian’s Church in the seaside, majority-Catholic town of Negombo, outside Colombo; and the protestant Zion Church on Sri Lanka’s east coast. Three luxury hotels in Colombo — the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury — were also attacked.