Sri Lanka: Catholics pray for cricketers injured in terror attack

 Sri Lankan Catholics are praying for their cricket heroes injured in an attack in Pakistan on Tuesday.

The Sri Lankan cricket team was on its way to play its second day of a test match in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 3 when it was ambushed. Eight players were wounded in the shootout and six policemen and two civilians were killed. Three of the injured cricketers are Catholics. The 15-member team flew to Colombo on March 4 and was rushed to hospital.

One of those injured is Ajantha Mendis, 23, a rising star on the world cricket scene, and a Catholic. In Mendis' hometown of Kalutara, 20 kilometers south of Colombo, people are in shock. "Thank God they are now safe and secure. We all prayed to Saint Anthony when we heard of this attack," said Rasik Lakmal Fernando, a school cricketer. "It is tragic this has happened."

Mendis' mother Ranjani Sriyani Mendis said yesterday: "Ajantha called us from the scene of the terror attack and said they suddenly heard a noise like a firecracker and that the bus came to a halt. Some of the guys were lying on top of each other and taking shelter below the seats."

The 54-year-old woman recalled: "He asked us not to panic and said the team was fine. At once I knelt down and I prayed to God."
Mendis hasn't sustained serious injuries but there is an injury on his head which needed four stitches and some bruising on the back, his brother, Aruna, said. "This morning he went to a hospital for a checkup."

Father Prasad Perera, pastor of St Anthony's Church in Kadalana where Mendis lives, said the family are active parishioners. "Before going for any tour he comes here, prays and receives my blessings. This time also he came," Father Perera said.

The priest condemned the terror attack in Pakistan. "It's a pity these terrorists attacked a group of civilians -- some foreigners who came there to play cricket and who had nothing to do with the politics of the country."

Dilhara Fernando and Chaminda Vaas are among the other Catholic cricketers injured. Vice-captain Kumar Sangakkara, another wounded cricketer, told media the players were relieved to be home.

Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, some Sri Lankan officials fear a possible link with an ongoing military offensive against Tamil rebels. The separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has on various occasions, committed acts of terrorism in their effort to establish a Tamil state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

However, Pakistan too has a problem with terrorism, whose roots lie in its backing of the Taliban who took power in Afghanistan in 1996, and who were later ousted by US-led forces in 2001.

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Church's National Commission for Justice and Peace, who is based in Lahore, condemned the attack.
"The commission expresses sympathy and embarrassment at the incident," he said. "It is very sad that our guests were targeted. It seems that terrorism is expanding its boundaries. We hope that the government does its best to curb the menace instead of making vague interpretations."

The Sri Lankan team had agreed to tour Pakistan despite a high security risk. They replaced India, who refused to go amid heightened tensions in the wake of the Mumbai terror assault in November.

Young Catholics in India, where cricket is also very popular, condemned the attack. "This is very sad. It is a shameful act of terrorism. We condemn it," said Sajish Jose, president of the Indian Catholic Youth Movement. He said games and politics should not mix and that cricket brings people together, especially in South Asia.

Source: UCAN

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