Sri Lanka Church Sacked and Burned

Investigation Looking Into Extremist Groups

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, JULY 21, 2005 ( Sri Lankan Catholics are alarmed after a church in the Diocese of Anuradhapura was sacked in broad daylight and set on fire.

Preliminary police investigations into the Saturday attack point to fanatic Buddhist extremist groups, which are spreading intolerance and anti-Christian sentiments throughout the island nation, said the Holy See’s missionary agency Fides.

As anti-Christian feelings spread, Parliament is due shortly to discuss two bills which would ban religious conversions, thus increasing religious unrest.

Bishop Norbert Andradi of Anuradhapura confirmed the attack and destruction of Holy Cross Church in the town of Pulasthigama.

«This is the first time a church in our diocese is attacked and we are deeply shocked,» the bishop said Wednesday. «People are afraid and wonder what reason was behind the aggression.»

He continued: «The attack happened in broad daylight. The only people in the church at the time were two Catholic boys who had stopped to say a prayer. Suddenly a group of hooded men broke into the church and began to smash everything, including the altar and crucifix. The two boys were badly beaten but managed to escape.

«When the criminals had completed their work of destruction, they set fire to the building. Local Catholic families rushed to put out the fire with water but it was too late. Charred ruins were all that was left of the church.»

Signs of solidarity

With regard to the motive behind the attack, Bishop Andradi told Fides: «We fail to understand the reason, except that of spreading anti-Christian sentiments connected with the question of conversions. In other parts of Sri Lanka, Protestant churches have been attacked, but it is nearly always the Catholic community which suffers most from violence.»

The bishop added he had written letters of protest to the civil authorities. He said that local Buddhist leaders who condemned the attack replied with messages of solidarity.

The Anuradhapura Diocese has a population of 1.4 million, mainly Buddhists. There are about 12,500 Catholics.

Once the capital of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is traditionally known as the place where Buddha had «three illuminations,» and is one of the most important holy places for Buddhists in Southeast Asia.

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