Sri Lankan cardinal boycotts Independence Day celebration to protest lack of justice

"We want to have answers in this country, but for three years it has been increasingly difficult”

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo is not attending Sri Lanka’s official Independence Day celebration on Friday, February 4, to protest the alleged lack of justice in the country for victims of attacks and rights abuses.

“We want to have answers in this country, but for three years it has been increasingly difficult,” said Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, spokesman of the archdiocese, referring to the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings that killed at least 270 people and injured hundreds of others.

The priest said Cardinal Ranjith will not celebrate Mass during the anniversary as a sign of protest over the discovery of a hand grenade inside a church early in January and the lack of development in the investigation into the 2019 bombings.

“We are disturbed by the fact that the custodian of the church of Borella (where the grenade was found on January 11) is still detained despite the evidence that he has nothing to do with the grenade found in the sacred place,” said Father Fernando.

The grenade was discovered inside the All Saints Church, three days before the 1,000th day since the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings. A caretaker of the church and a retired doctor have been arrested.

“The archbishop decided not to celebrate Holy Mass in the church where a hand grenade was placed,” said Father Fernando, adding that it is “a sad time when innocent people are being detained.”

The priest said Mass will be held in all other parishes “as per the tradition on Independence Day.”

Sri Lanka celebrates its National Day, also known as Independence Day, every February 4 to mark the country’s political independence from British rule in 1948. It is celebrated all over the country through a flag-hoisting ceremony, dances, parades and performances, and Masses for the Catholic faithful.

In his Independence Day message, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said the country’s independence “was the result of the united struggle of all Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher leaders, regardless of race, religion or party affiliation.”

He noted, however, that “the true inspiration of that freedom that was gained 74 years ago was lost to the people of this country due to the internal struggles and the three decades of terrorist war.”

“Now we are dedicated to achieve the goal of rebuilding human lives and the economy that has been devastated by the global pandemic,” said Rajapaksa. “Now is the time to stand together to overcome challenges,” he added.

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