Christian Church Attacked in Sri Lanka

Latest in the string of escalated violence against Christian Communities
( [email protected] ) Jan 28, 2004 12:16 PM EST

Sri Lanka -- Unidentified assailants in Colombo attacked another Christian church on Tuesday, Jan. 27, adding onto the fears of the minority Christian community in Sri Lanka, that suffered through two similar attacks just last week.

"I just cannot believe that we have been attacked like this," said Srahi Bongso, the lay director of the vandalized “Shrine of the Mother Most Pure”. "But in a way, I could say we saw this coming because several other churches had been attacked recently."

Armed police forces were recently dispatched to churches amid escalated hate crimes against Christians in Colombo. However, the latest victim had not police protection because it was not believed to be a target.

"This church had been here for 14 years and they have not had any problem with the neighbors," police inspector Wijeyananda said as he surveyed the damage at the vandalized shrine.

Reports showed that the attackers smashed statues, windows and set fire to Bibles during the night.

"We believe one gang is responsible for a spate of attacks like this on churches in this area," the inspector said. "We have not made any arrests, but investigations are on."

Bongso said the proposed anti-conversion legislation was providing a moral justification for extremists to attack Christian places of worship. Therefore, the attacks came as a surprise since according to Bongso, the church was not involved in converting people, but had been open to worshippers form different faiths looking for healing.

Some Buddhist monks have been demanding a law to ban what they call "unethical conversions". They argue that Christian sects offer cash to poor people to persuade them to convert, charge Christian groups deny.

Nine days ago, a Roman Catholic Church in the area was attacked. That came just two days after President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s call to stop the attacks against Christians; her plea was made a day after another Catholic Church in the region was set on fire.

Kumaratunga, who holds the interior ministry portfolio, had asked police chief Indra de Silva to investigate the attacks and show no leniency in arresting those responsible.

The attacks against churches escalated last month following the death of a controversial Buddhist monk, Gangodavila Soma, who led a campaign against religious conversions. The monk's death after he suffered a heart attack in Russia fuelled conspiracy theories despite an autopsy showing he died of natural causes.

Sri Lanka's constitution grants the foremost place to Buddhism, which is practiced by nearly 70 percent of the island's 18.66 million people. Hindus make up about 15 percent and Muslims about 7.5 percent. Christians account for 7.5 percent of the population.