Catholic Church attacked, suspicions fall on Buddhist extremists

Jaela, Sri Lanka – “I can still hear the shouting in my ears: ‘kill him!,” said Fr Jude Lakshman, parish priest of Our Lady Rosa Mystica in Crooswatta, as he spoke to AsiaNews about the attack against his church last Sunday.

“A mob of about a thousand people with sticks, swords and stones stormed the church when I and my parishioners were still inside. I had just finished the 7 o’clock Mass,” the priest said. “They smashed statues, the altar and chairs. They destroyed everything.”

The mob also set fire to cars in the church’s parking lot (pictured), attacked people, and hurt a few.

The attack took place last Sunday and is but the latest violent episode against the church of the village of Crooswatta, near Kotugoda.

Among the local 293 Catholic families, fear is mixed with anger.

“It is clear that the attack was planned and the mob was waiting for us to leave the church after Mass,” Father Lakshman said.

Some soldiers from a nearby air force camp in Ekala are now patrolling the area to guarantee security and prevent further attacks.

Police has arrested 11 suspects and is investigating extremist Buddhist groups that attacked the church in the past.

Our Lady Rosa Mystica has been a source of friction between Catholic and Buddhist communities in Crooswatta for years. In the last four years, extremists have stopped the construction of the church, which is near a Buddhist monastery. In 2006 and 2007, the Church was targeted by Buddhist extremists, and construction was halted.

However, on 28 July 2008, the Supreme Court gave the green light to complete the work.

“We got the permission to celebrate Mass, conduct catechism and carry out other community activities,” the priest said.

Following the latest attack, the authorities said that nothing changed the Supreme Court ruling in relation to the Church in Crooswatta. However, members of the congregation fear for their security and are upset by more delay.

“We had planned to finish the roof this Sunday, and welcome the faithful inside the building next Sunday for the Feast Day of Our Lady Rosa Mystica,” Father Lakshman said.