Pope Francis urged the Sri Lankan authorities on Monday to clarify who was responsible for the bombings that claimed more than 200 lives on Easter Sunday in 2019.
The pope made the appeal in an April 25 address to Italy’s Sri Lankan community in St. Peter’s Basilica marking the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Addressing the leaders of the South Asian island country, the pope said: “Please and for the sake of justice, for the love of your people, may it be clarified definitively who was responsible for these events. This will bring peace to your conscience and to the nation.”
Eight suicide bombers targeted two Catholic churches, one evangelical church, three luxury hotels, and other locations on April 19, 2019, killing an estimated 269 people and injuring more than 500.
Vatican News, the online news portal of the Holy See, said that around 3,500 Sri Lankan Catholics living in Italy gathered to meet the pope at St. Peter’s.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, presented Pope Francis with a replica of a statue of the risen Jesus that was found spattered with blood after the bombing of St. Sebastian’s Church, Negombo.
Ranjith has repeatedly accused the authorities of failing to give a clear account of how the terrorists were able to strike despite alleged intelligence that attacks were imminent.
The 74-year-old cardinal suggested last month that there was evidence that Sri Lankan officials ignored the warnings.
“In fact, the government seems to have done its best to prevent the arrest of the attackers,” the cardinal said at a March 14 press conference organized by Aid to the Church in Need.
“There are indications that the authorities wanted the attacks to be carried out.”
Maithripala Sirisena, who was president of Sri Lanka at the time, created a five-person commission to investigate the attacks. The commission’s final report was presented to current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2021, but its contents were not shared with the Church or the country’s attorney general.
In October 2020, five suspects arrested in connection with the attacks were released by the government, citing a lack of evidence.
The trial of 25 of the men accused of preparing the attacks began in November 2021 but was adjourned in January this year.
Pope Francis, who visited Sri Lanka in 2015, spoke at the end of a Mass celebrated by Ranjith.
“Today you have offered the Eucharistic Sacrifice in suffrage for the victims of those terrible attacks, and you have prayed for those injured — some of whom are present here — and for their families, as well as for all the people of Sri Lanka,” the pope said.
“With all my heart I join you in prayer.”