Sri Lankan bombings echo through local churches on Easter

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — As eight bomb blasts echoed in Sri Lanka, 8,800 miles from the city, many preachers and parishioners were unaware of the extent of the carnage as they bowed heads at Easter services.

As Sunday went on, however, the impact and the cruel timing became more clear.

"Hideous," said Tim Moran of Grosse Pointe Park, a longtime congregant at Fort Street Presbyterian Church.

"To think of those people showing up to church to worship, and have this happen to them is just terrible," Moran said. "It's a tragedy, but that's the world we live in right now. We'll just keep our doors open and hope for the best."

Fort Street celebrated its Easter tradition of inflating more than 200 pastel-colored balloons and releasing them after the service as Rev. Anne Lange intoned three times, "Christ is risen."

Less than two miles away, at Cass Community United Methodist Church, Rev. Faith Fowler knew only the barest details of the Sri Lanka attacks as she began her sermon about the Gospel of John.

In the story, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John rush to the empty tomb of Christ, and John is the first to believe He has risen without seeing tangible evidence. The point was the importance of faith; she referenced the the Boston Marathon bombing and even the Mueller Report, noting that "even the scripture is redacted."

"We don't have the full story" about the Bible, Fowler said, but as she learned more about what happened in the island nation south of India — three churches and three hotels bombed, with Americans among 27 or more foreigners on a casualty list at least 207 names long — she drew on her readings for a reaction.

"How do we respond in a way that holds people responsible," she asked, "but also respects the love and grace that we attribute to God?"

Sri Lanka police say the death toll from the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka has increased to 290. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said Monday more than 500 people had been wounded, the Associated Press reported.

The nine bombings of churches, luxury hotels and other sites was Sri Lanka’s deadliest violence since a devastating civil war ended a decade ago.

Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said in a prepared statement that "My prayers go out to all those impacted by these despicable acts of violence. There is a universal bond between us here in the Detroit archdiocese and those Sri Lankan Catholics who were in church celebrating the holiest, most significant date on the Christian calendar — Easter. 

"May the Risen Christ embrace those killed, heal their families and the survivors, and help make the world one of tolerance and acceptance."

Members of Michigan's Congressional delegation tweeted reactions to the attacks.

From U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township: "Heartbroken over these attacks in Sri Lanka — some of which targeted families celebrating Easter at church. Thinking of all those affected by these acts of terror."

From U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township: "Prayers for those who were killed or injured in Sri Lanka and for their families and friends. May the memories of those who died be eternal and the perpetrators of the attacks be brought to justice."

From U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township: "Such a horrific terror attack on Easter worshippers and tourists in Sri Lanka. My thoughts are with the victims of today’s attack. We must stand united against hate and violence."

In Rome, Pope Francis mentioned the incident at the end of his traditional Easter Sunday blessing in Rome.

"I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence," he said.

In Northville, the thoughts of minister and former weathercaster Chuck Gaidica were also focused on places far away — not just Sri Lanka, but New York and Washington, D.C., busy cities where his daughters would be attending services.

"There was a remembrance" at Hilltop Church in Northville for Easter Sunday's victims, Gaidica said, though the tragedy was not a topic of the sermon.

Gaidica was formerly on staff at Oak Pointe Church in Novi, and spent seven months as executive director at Hilltop.

"I see this news, and I don’t think it's any accident that it happens when it happens," he said. "In a culture that's more secular at times, it shows me there's still such potential impact that people think they have to do dastardly things to people of faith."

As the balloons soared at Fort Street, Moran chose to focus on the blessings of the day.

The unofficial historian of a church that dates to 1855, he recalled some launches where the wind blew the balloons sideways and others where they struggled to lift off with caps of snow.

Looking at the blue, sunny sky, Moran said, "Today, we're lucky."


People let balloons go following at the Easter service at Fort Street Presbyterian Church in Detroit on April 21, 2019.  The church has the tradition of doing a balloon launch after the service.
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