From the Archbishop

Sri Lanka terror attacks call us to stand together


May 5 2019I am sure that, like me, your sense of decency has been confronted by the recent appalling events that took place on Easter Day in Sri Lanka. Christian church attenders, tourists and hospitality workers along with members of the police have lost their lives or been left with severe injuries after these apparently co-ordinated suicide bombing attacks.

I know some of these places quite well, having been to Sri Lanka several times in recent years assisting the Anglican Church there with governance issues it has been working on.

The Christian churches have been exemplars of reconciliation in the 10 years since the long civil war in Sri Lanka concluded. The ethnic differences that fuelled the civil war have been held together as a reconciled unity within the Christian churches throughout those awful times.

This makes the actions of the suicide bombers and those who planned the attacks so reprehensible. It has been suggested that the bombings were intended to provoke intercommunal conflict or were even some sort of “payback” for the Christchurch mass shootings. More analysis will undoubtedly reveal who the people were who initiated these attacks and perhaps reveal their deeper motivation.

As I write this I am acutely aware of the danger of speculation adding to anxiety and am conscious that painstaking investigation is needed in situations like this to get to the truth. How tragic that apparently there were intelligence reports warning about the likelihood of these very events and that they somehow were not acted on. These will be important matters for the political leadership of Sri Lanka to be accountable for over the weeks and months ahead.

I spoke with Bishop Dhilo Canagasabey, the Anglican Bishop of Colombo, on Easter Day as soon as I had learned of the first bombings and assured him of my prayers. By that time he was safely in the Bishops’ House and extensive security had been provided to ensure the safety of people in the Cathedral precinct where he lives. The authorities have not ruled out the possibility of further attacks and I know from when our own Cathedral in Melbourne has been the target of threatened terror attacks how unsettling this is.

I am acutely aware of the many people, clergy and lay, in the Diocese of Melbourne who have Sri Lankan heritage or are familiar with this beautiful island. Many of you will know that Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country and I am grateful for the way that the Sri Lankan Buddhist community in Melbourne has reached out to Sri Lankan Christians in the wake of these tragedies. The condemnations of these attacks by Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim alike gives heart to the Christian minority that they are supported in their own Sri Lankan society and around the world.

The Vicar of Whittlesea, the Revd Ruwan Palapathwala, attended an event on the evening of the blasts at the Keysborough Buddhist Temple. St Paul’s Cathedral held an act of remembrance on the Sunday after. There have been many prayers offered in Melbourne’s parish churches. These local observances are important opportunities for the Sri Lankan diaspora, and all of us, to connect our own grief with God’s grace and healing. It is important that we stand together at a time like this to denounce the actions of any group that wants to fragment community harmony in Sri Lanka.

Let us stand together with our fellow Christians through prayers in our local communities as we have the opportunity.

Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at