Sri Lanka: Catholics attend first Sunday Mass in capital since bombings

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith held mass in Colombo's St. Theresa's Church Sunday after resorting in recent weeks to televised broadcasts from his residence to reach out to his shocked parishioners.

At least 258 people were killed on April 21 when seven suicide bombers targeted two Catholic churches, one Protestant church and three luxury hotels. Authorities blamed local jihadis and church services were temporarily canceled.

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Approaching St. Theresa's Sunday, congregation members faced body searches by soldiers wary of explosives. The church's sprawling car park was kept empty as part of high-level security precautions. Thousands reportedly attended mass across Colombo.

On Saturday, Cardinal Ranjith had celebrated a special Mass in Colombo's St. Lucia Cathedral, attended by survivors and relatives of victims.

Outside Colombo, churches resumed services last week, but were guarded by local police.

Catholic-run schools to reopen

Church officials said next Tuesday could see the reopening of church-run schools if they were satisfied with security measures.

State-run schools — put at more than 10,000 across Sri Lanka — resumed class last week, also under police guard and with parking restrictions, but pupil attendances have reportedly been low.

Last week, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena told the Associated Press that it was safe for tourists to return to the Indian Ocean island nation, which over the past decade has been emerging from a Tamil separatist war.

Sri Lankan authorities claim to have killed or arrested those responsible for the Easter Sunday bombings after blaming two previously little-known jihadist groups, National Towheed Jamaat (NTJ) and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim, led by preacher Zahran Hashim.

Reuters on Sunday reported the arrest of a Saudi-educated scholar, Mohamed Aliyar, in Hashim's hometown of Kattankudy on Sri Lanka's eastern coast.

Sirisena said those arrested accounted for "99%" of suspects.

ipj/amp (AP, AFP, Reuters)