The Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese joined Sri Lankan Catholics, Buddhists, and Muslims at a packed interfaith solidarity meeting Tuesday, April 23 at a church in Lomita in Los Angeles County to honor the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks.

The hastily organized meeting, widely publicized on social media, drew hundreds, a rare occurrence on a weekday evening.

Father Alexei Smith representing the Archdiocese called the attacks at several Catholic churches “appalling and onerous for Christians” and said worshippers were “martyred for their faith.” That it happened on Easter makes it even more reprehensible, he said, adding, “This has to stop…” He urged the congregation not to let the “light that shines in this darkness and our love” be extinguished.

Fr. Smith reminded the audience that Archbishop José H. Gomez had delivered a special Mass on Easter Sunday to pray for the Sri Lankan victims. Addressing 10,000 congregants, the archbishop had called for “the conversion of every heart that is hardened by hatred.”

Fr. Alexei Smith speaks to attendees at the Sri Lankan interfaith gathering. (PHOTO COURTESY HASSINA LEELARATHNA)

Fr. Damien Fernando, a well-known leader in the Sri Lankan expatriate community, said Catholics in Sri Lanka have lived in harmony with all religions, and that there is now “unbearable pain” following Easter Sunday’s devastation. “We have no answers, but we must share the pain,” he added, urging congregants to forgive those who acted in violence. 

Representing the Buddhist community, Ven. Apparekke Punyasiri echoed these sentiments, calling for unity and forgiveness. “We are all heartbroken,” he said, adding that it is natural to find fault with the perpetrators of such acts. The purpose of terrorism is to generate hatred and anger, but he asked the congregation, “Are we going to allow that seed to grow, or are we going to heal our wounds? The option is in us.” 

Muslims from the Islamic Center of South Bay also participated in full force, several of them moved to visible tears. Speaking for the Center, Mohamed Sabah said Sri Lanka was known for inclusiveness and “being together” in the face of tragedy. He extended condolences to the families of the “innocent victims” and recited dua (prayer) for peace throughout the country. 

Saxophonist Vernon Fernando, originally from Negombo, and mourning the death of his cousin Manel Fernando, who was killed along with her 10-year-old grandson while attending Mass, gave a plaintive rendition of the hymn “Nearer my God to Thee.” Eranthi Jayawardane, a  second-generation Sri Lankan-American, delivered the moving hymn “Sevanili matha,” while people solemnly lined up to light candles arranged to form “320,” the number of known fatalities at the time.

The gathering commemorated not only the Sri Lankan victims, but Americans and other nationalities who were affected, lead event organizer Kanthi Edirisinghe noted. “Today our prayers and compassion extend beyond geographical boundaries, beyond any one religion or ethnicity. We stand united as one people [in] mourning.” 

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