A Sri Lankan priest who lost close friends during the Easter Sunday terror attacks has spoken out about the impact of the terrorist atrocities.
Fr Malaka Leonard, a Franciscan priest who lost friends in the bombing of St Sebastian's Catholic Church, Katuwapitiya, said: "We Sri Lankans suffered enough from 30 years of war against terrorists.
"We thought that Sri Lanka was becoming a peaceful environment. But with these blasts, all our hope has gone. We are far away from peace."
More than 250 people, including 47 children, were killed and more than 500 people injured in the devastating bomb attacks targeting churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday (21st April).
Fr Leonard said: "A considerable number of children have become victims of the blasts. Children are innocent. They are unable to understand what is happening. Most of the children are in fear. Schools are closed for a few days."
But, Fr Leonard stressed that the response of the Church will always be one of peace and reconciliation. He said: "There is no road to peace, peace is the road. The way of peace is the path of love. Let us take every possible step to avoid violence and live peacefully."
Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of Aid to the Church in Need (International) said: "The atrocities in Sri Lanka mark the bloody climax of a trend that has endured for some years now - the persecution of Christians knows no bounds.
"It knows no let-up, especially on the holiest days of the Christian calendar. It knows no mercy on innocent people, who are often made scapegoats for global developments."
He added: "2019 is already one of the bloodiest years for Christians."
The first four months of 2019 saw deadly attacks and the mass slaughter of Christians in:
· Central African Republic, where attacks by Islamist Séléka militia on a Catholic mission station in Bangassou in January killed dozens of people and caused around 20,000 people to flee the violence.
· Southern Philippines, where again in January the Islamist attack on the cathedral of Jolo killed 20 people and injured around 90.
· Kaduna State, Nigeria, where attacks by Islamist Fulani extremists on Christian villagers in mid-March that left more than 130 dead.
· Tamil Nadu State, India, where religious sisters from a local Catholic school were hunted down by a 200-strong mob of extremist Hindu nationalists at the end of March. The mob attempted to lynch them with their rosary beads.
ACN's 2018 Religious Freedom in the World report showed evidence of the targeted persecution of Christians by extremist groups.
But, despite the overwhelming evidence, these increasing attacks on Christians throughout the world remain largely ignored.
Dr Heine-Geldern said: "To say that Daesh (ISIS) has been beaten militarily and therefore no longer exists is a fallacy - the ideology lives on, as do its supporters… Extremist Islamism, excessive nationalism and authoritarian ideologies are still the main drivers of persecution against Christians and other religious minorities. People are becoming more and more frightened."
He added: "It is the duty of governments and the UN to bring about peace, to guarantee freedom of religion and to repel anti-religious attacks," while the role of the Church is to "stand by persecuted Christians, to give them a voice and a face."
Dr Heine-Geldern concluded: "ACN has been campaigning for this for more than 70 years. In view of the growing violence against Christians, it is a cause worthy of every support and every effort."
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