Pope Francis on Easter expressed “sadness and pain” at the multiple bombs that exploded in several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing and wounding hundreds.
“I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” the pope said. “I entrust to the Lord all those who have been tragically lost and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer because of this tragic event.”
At least 290 people have been killed and hundreds more injured in eight explosions targeting churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.
Three churches were targeted during Easter Sunday services.
Images posted on the Facebook page of St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, 23 miles north of the capital Colombo, show a heavily damaged interior of the church and members of the congregation scrambling to help the injured.
An appeal for help was also made by the church on Facebook.
“A bomb attack to our church please come and help if your family members are there,” the message said.
The images could not be immediately verified but Reuters reported a police official stating more than 50 people had been killed at St. Sebastian’s alone.
In Colombo, St. Anthony’s Church was targeted with reports of more than 160 injured.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo said that nearly 150 Catholics were killed by the bombing of the two churches.
The cardinal said that it as “a very, very sad day for all of us.”
“I [would] also like to ask the government to hold a very impartial, strong inquiry and find out who is responsible behind this act and also to punish them mercilessly because only animals can behave like that,” he said.
He also appealed to the public to donate blood and urged people to remain calm and not take the law into their hands.
Another explosion targeted The Zion Church, 137 miles east of the capital in Batticaloa. Latest reports said 25 people had been killed in that bombing.
The BBC has also reported that three hotels — the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand, and Kingsbury — were also hit. Among the dead were 32 foreigners.
Sri Lanka has blamed local jihadist group National Thowheed Jamath for one of Asia’s deadliest terrorist attacks in years after confirming seven suicide bombers carried out the Easter blasts.
Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne blamed the group at a press conference in Colombo on April 22.
“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country. There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded,” Senaratne said.
Not much is known about the NTJ, which has been linked to the vandalizing of Buddhist statues in Sri Lanka.
The government also reportedly said it had been warned three times in recent weeks that a possible attack during the holy holiday was imminent.
Close to 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, with Muslims, Hindus and Catholics, the other major religions, being approximately 7 percent.