Church in Sri Lanka to begin canonization process for hundreds killed in 2019 Easter attack

The Archdiocese of Colombo, Sri Lanka, is set to begin the canonization process for the hundreds of faithful killed in the 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist attack in the country, an archdiocesan official confirmed with CNA.

Father Joy Indika Perera, a representative for Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, told CNA in an email last week that the archdiocese plans to submit a petition to the Vatican to declare those killed in the Easter Sunday attacks “martyrs of faith.” 

Perera said the archdiocese will be submitting the petition on April 21, exactly five years after the attacks took place. That is the minimum amount of time required by the Church to open a person’s canonization cause.

The petition will be submitted to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.


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.

Perera said that 216 Catholics from two different churches, St. Sebastian and St. Anthony, “were massacred in cold blood” in the attack.

Shortly after the attacks, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings. The Sri Lankan government determined the attack to have been carried out by a local radical Islamist group known as National Thowheeth Jama’ath, with the assistance of foreign groups.

Out of fear of additional attacks, in-person Masses were suspended and Catholic schools were closed in the archdiocese for several weeks. 

Speaking on behalf of the cardinal, Perera criticized the government’s response to the massacre, accusing it of still doing its best to “hide” information about the attacks and those responsible.

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“Cardinal Ranjith has been always insisting on the discovery of [the] truth behind these attacks as there are clear indications that it was a deliberate act of political manipulation by some interested parties who made use of the Islamic extremists for their diabolical plot,” Perera said.

“Up to now no serious investigation has taken place in order to find out the real cause of this massacre,” he added.

Maithripala Sirisena, who was president of Sri Lanka at the time, created a five-person commission to investigate the attacks. 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 2022.

In January 2023 a seven-judge panel from Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court found Sirisena and four other high-ranking government officials liable for the massacre because they possessed but failed to disclose credible information warning of the attacks. The court ordered Sirisena to pay victims’ families a total of $273,000 from his personal funds while other officials were similarly disciplined. 


In April 2022, Pope Francis urged the government of Sri Lanka to take greater action to identify the perpetrators and bring justice for the victims and their families. “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,” the pope said

Perera said the cardinal is prioritizing opening the Easter martyrs’ canonization because he is convinced they died for their faith.

He “believes that since they were exercising an act of faith by coming to the church to participate in the liturgy of the risen Lord and to take part in spiritual activities of their own free will, and they had to lay down their lives for having done that, this fact itself is a cause good enough to promote them to the level of Servants of God and martyrs of the faith,” Perera said.

Perera said the archdiocese hopes to receive approval from the Holy See and that “once this approval is given, we will work on the process of beatification and consider them Servants of God.”

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