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Islamic State claims responsibility for Sri Lanka Easter bombings

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 23, 2019 / 07:09 am (CNA).- The Islamic State claimed responsibility Tuesday for the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka that killed at least 321 people and left 500 injured.

“The perpetrators of the attack that targeted nationals of the countries of the coalitions and Christians in Sri Lanka before yesterday are fighters from the Islamic State,” the Islamic State said through its Aamaq news agency April 23.

Sri Lankan officials suspected the local Islamist group, the National Thowheed Jamath, of carrying out the attacks, but one government spokesman added that it was likely that an international network also supported the attacks.

In the past, the Islamic State has claimed attacks perpetrated by others that support their ideology, however, the sophistication of the seven coordinated suicide bombings in three Sri Lankan cities points to the possibility of direct involvement.

Sri Lanka’s minister of defense Ruwan Wijewardene claimed Tuesday that the church bombings in Sri Lanka were in retaliation for the mosque bombings in Christchurch New Zealand, AP reported. The office of New Zealand’s prime minister responded to the claim by saying that they had not seen any intelligence to support the connection.

Funeral Masses were held April 23 for the victims of the attacks on St. Sebastian's Catholic Church in Negombo and St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, told EWTN that the local Catholic community has suffered tremendously because of the horrible massacre on Easter Sunday.

“We lost so many valuable lives in both churches ... a huge amount of people,” Cardinal Ranjith told EWTN News Nightly April 22.

The Sri Lankan cardinal said that he rushed to St. Anthony’s shrine as soon as he heard of the attack Sunday morning, but the police did not allow him to enter because they suspected that more bombs could be inside the church.

“From the outside I saw a lot of devastation outside the church,” Ranjith said. “When I saw so many bodies, I was completely moved and disturbed.”

The Knights of Columbus have pledged $100,000 in aid for victims of the Sri Lankan attacks to help Cardinal Ranjith rebuild and repair his Christian community.

“Terrorist attacks like those on Easter Sunday are the acts of those who reject the sanctity of life, human rights and religious freedom,” Carl Anderson, CEO and Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus said April 22.

“Globally, it is well documented that Christians are the most persecuted religious group today,” Anderson said. “Now is the time for every country to take concrete steps to protect their minority populations, including Christians, and to stop this persecution and slaughter.”

Investigations into the Easter attacks on two Catholic churches, an evangelical church, three hotels, and a private residence are ongoing. According to some reports, as many as 24 arrests have been made as Sri Lanka has declared a state of national emergency.

Pope Francis renewed his prayers for the victims in Sri Lanka and appealed for international support during his Regina Coeli address Monday.

“I pray for the many victims and wounded, and I ask everyone not to hesitate to offer this dear nation all the help that is necessary,” the pope said April 22.

“I also hope that everyone condemns these acts of terrorism, inhuman acts, never justifiable,” he said.

'Controlled explosion' near St. Anthony's church as Sri Lanka remains on high alert

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 22, 2019 / 08:03 am (CNA).- Police in Sri Lanka have detonated a suspicious package near St. Anthony’s church in Colombo on Easter Monday.

Local media reported scenes of panic and confusion April 22, as crowds fled the area after what has been described as a “small explosion.” Local police later confirmed the blast was the controlled destruction of a suspect item found in a nearby van.

The controlled detonation was carried out but local authorities at approximately 3:30pm local time Monday afternoon. It took place in the immediate area of St. Anthony’s Catholic church and national shrine, which was at the center of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.

 

 

Small explosion outside St Anthony’s church right now. People fleeing the scene pic.twitter.com/GjadgTwoZ5

— michael safi (@safimichael) April 22, 2019  



 

The controlled explosion follows the defusing of what the Times of London called a "large pipe bomb" near Colombo airport overnight, and authorities remain on high alert over the possibility of further attacks.

According to some reports, as many as 24 arrests have been made, and investigations are ongoing.

The Easter attacks, which have claimed more than 290 lives and injured a further 500, targeted several churches including St. Anthony’s, as well as three hotels, a zoo, and a private residence.

World leaders have offered statements of condolence and solidarity to the island nation as government officials have appealed for unity in the face of the terrorist action.

Details of the attacks have continued to emerge, with police confirming that several of the explosions were the result of suicide bombers.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the coordinated series of attacks, Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe indicated on Monday that local intelligence and security services had been circulating warnings of an impending attack on churches 10 days before Easter.

Senior police officers have been reported saying the warnings referred to the domestic Islamic terror group National Thowheeth Jama’ath.

Wickremesinghe said this information was not shared with him or his cabinet, and that he was investigating why additional precautions did not appear to have been taken. The prime minister also said that the immediate priority was to arrest those responsible.

While the prime minister confirmed that “so far the names that have come up [as suspects] are local”, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said on Monday that the government was considering the role of overseas terrorist groups.

“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country. There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded,” Senaratne said.

Concerns have previously been raised in Sri Lanka about a potential spike in terrorist violence following the return of Islamist radicals to the country in the aftermath of the collapse of Islamic State.

As security services and police continue their investigations, Pope Francis renewed his prayers for the victims and appealed for international support.

Speaking from the balcony of the Apostolic Palace on Monday, the pope condemned the “inhuman” terrorist attacks shortly before leading the Regina Coeli prayers.

“I pray for the many victims and wounded, and I ask everyone not to hesitate to offer this dear nation all the help that is necessary,” the pope said.

I also hope that everyone condemns these acts of terrorism, inhuman acts, never justifiable.”

Porn restrictions further delayed in UK, now scheduled for July launch

London, England, Apr 22, 2019 / 06:34 am (CNA).- The United Kingdom has once again delayed the launch of its constraints on virtual porn. The online age verification program is now scheduled to launch mid-summer.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock signed a commencement order for the Digital Economy Act in 2017 as a means to curb pornography access by those under 18.

After two years of development and numerous delays, the program is now scheduled to be released on July 15. A few parts of the program have been updated since the project was originally expected to launch on April 1.

To view online pornography, internet users will need to confirm their age by entering information from a driver’s license, credit card, or passport. If users do not wish to input their personal information, they may purchase a special ID card, available at thousands of retail shops across the nation for under £10.

For a website to be monitored, more than a third of the site must be dedicated to pornography, ruling out platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, which are known to have small pockets of pornography. Non-commercial pornographic sites will also be exempt.
Government officials say they hope social media companies will make an effort to protect children from encountering pornographic material.

“We know that pornography is available on some social media platforms and we expect those platforms to do a lot more to create a safer environment for children,” a Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport spokesman told the BBC.

“If we do not see action then we do not rule out legislating in the future to force companies to take responsibility for protecting vulnerable users from the potentially harmful content that they host,” the spokesman said.

Originally, websites that failed to follow the age verification rules were expected to face a nearly $330,000 fine, but this will not be enforced because of the difficulty enforcing payment from porn companies overseas. Rather, the government said a threat to block noncompliant websites should be sufficient to ensure conformity, the BBC reported.

In March, Matt Fradd, author of The Porn Myth and creator of the new 21-day porn detox STRIVE, voiced support for increased restrictions surrounding pornography.

“If it’s something as simple as age verification, I’m all for it,” he told CNA. “It just sounds like we are expecting the same thing of people online that we already expect of them offline.”

Among the available age verification services is AgeID, built by MindGeek, which operates and owns several common pornographic sites.

Some critics of the new UK policy say it violates the privacy of pornography users.

“Data leaks could be disastrous. And they will be the government's own fault,” said Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group, according to the BBC.

The UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said the age verification is a valuable first step, but that other measures need to be taken alongside it.

“The NSPCC is calling for social networks to be required by law to give under-18s safe accounts with extra protections built in, so that children are kept as safe online as they are in the real world,” read a statement from the organization, according to BirminghamLive.

Children’s access to online pornography has been identified as a significant problem: A 2016 study by internet security company Bitdefender found that about 1 in 10 visitors to porn video sites is under age 10.

Fight the New Drug, an organization that works to educate on the harmful effects of pornography, has highlighted numerous studies showing the negative impact of pornography on underage users, including the creation of addictions, changes in sexual taste, and physical impact on the brain.

“Just more broadly, I would say pornography perverts a child’s understanding of human intimacy and sexual life, which is a very beautiful thing,” Fradd stressed.

“It’s as pernicious as sex is beautiful and human intimacy is worthwhile. Since those two things are beautiful and worthwhile, the corruption of it [in regards to] a child is all together something despicable and horrid.”
 

Pope Francis: The resurrection is the most shocking event in human history

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2019 / 05:05 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Monday that the resurrection of Christ is the most shocking event in human history.

“What was humanly unthinkable happened,” Pope Francis said April 22. “‘Christ, my hope, is risen!’ And in Him we too are resurrected, passing from death to life, from the slavery of sin to the freedom of love.”

The pope spoke from the window of the Vatican Apostolic Palace before leading those gathered in St. Peter’s Square in the traditional Easter prayer, the Regina Coeli.

“After the rites of the Easter Triduum, which made us relive the mystery of death and resurrection of our Lord, now with the eyes of faith we contemplate him risen and alive,” he said.

Pope Francis said “the risen Jesus walks beside us. He manifests himself to those who invoke and love him. First of all in prayer, but also in simple joys lived with faith and gratitude.”

The pope pointed to the important role that women played in announcing Christ’s resurrection.

“It is women who are the first to meet the Risen One and bring the announcement that he is alive,” Pope Francis said.

“All the Gospels highlight the role of women, Mary Magdalene and the others, as the first witnesses of the resurrection,” he said.

Pope Francis said that the words Jesus addressed to the women must also resound in our lives today, “Do not be afraid; go and announce …”

“We ask the Virgin Mary to allow us to receive full peace and serenity, gifts from the Risen One, to share with our brothers, especially those who need comfort and hope the most,” Pope Francis said.

“Let us allow ourselves, therefore, to reach out from the consoling message of Easter and wrap ourselves in its glorious light, which dissipates the darkness of fear and sadness,” he said.

The pope again expressed his spiritual closeness with the people of Sri Lanka, where explosions in Catholic churches killed more than 200 people on Easter morning.

Pope Francis condemned the acts of terrorism and said that the Sri Lankan people continue to be in his prayers.

“I pray for the many victims and wounded, and I ask everyone not to hesitate to offer this dear nation all the help that is necessary. I also hope that everyone condemns these acts of terrorism, inhuman acts, never justifiable,” Pope Francis said.

Why Blessed is She's founder says she's blessed

Denver, Colo., Apr 22, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Jenna Guizar grew up without any sisters.

But these days, Guizar relishes having a "sisterhood" of digital and physical communities of Catholic women around the world.

Guizar presides over a growing international women’s ministry, Blessed is She, which will mark its fifth year in September. The ministry began as a web-based devotional for Catholic women based on the day’s Mass readings.

“I loved what some of the Protestant women’s ministries were doing with Scripture study, inviting women to spend time daily in the Word. I wanted that for Catholic women, too,” Guizar, 35 and the mother of four daughters, explained.

“I saw an opening for this kind of content for women, and a hunger in the Church. I was hungry for it, too, and I didn’t see it happening in the Church, but I never thought of going elsewhere, I wanted to be fed in the Catholic Church.”

Now Guizar, along with a small staff and a national team of writers, whose contributions are vetted by theological editors, is feeding more than 60,000 women around the world with a daily email that delivers reflections on the Mass readings, along with a link to the readings themselves on the USCCB website.

On social media, tens of thousands follow along in regional Facebook groups, forming virtual communities that have morphed into hundreds of physical communities around the world.

On Blessed is She’s Instagram account, which has more than 100,000 followers, retreat director Beth Davis hosts a popular segment called ‘Teachable Tuesday,’ where she gives instruction different Catholic methods of prayer, wisdom from the lives of the saints, and deeper dives into Scripture.

Participants pop on at the beginning of the segment and announce their geographical locations: Ireland, Australia, Tanzania, Mexico, and the United States.

“Basically my whole adult life has been spent working for the Church,” says Davis, “but I’ve never experienced what we experience with these women every day, on retreats, on Instagram, in regional groups.

“There’s almost too much to choose from, she said, when asked for stories about her experience. “[We have] stories of women coming home to the Church, of becoming Catholic, of encountering Jesus for the first time in spite of years of knowing Him on an intellectual level.”

“What makes Blessed is She different is that it’s not about one person, there is no cult of personality. It’s all focused on Christ.” Davis explained, and Guizar agreed, when asked what she thought was driving the ministry’s growth.

“We’re just here walking alongside the women we serve, as women who are experiencing deeper conversion in their own lives,” added Guizar, explaining that she doesn’t see herself as doing anything extraordinary, apart from being available and willing to answer a need to which she herself felt drawn.

“My own personal, daily conversions happen in large part because of Blessed is She. I feel a great responsibility and honor to be given this ministry by the Lord. I feel a great responsibility to draw closer and closer to Him so that I can be the leader and woman He wants me to be,” Guizar said.

Guizar recalls one of the first times she realized Blessed is She might become something bigger than she’d envisioned:

“It was getting close to Advent during our first year, and I thought I’d like to make a little prayer journal and offer it to our subscribers. I had no idea whether it would sell, I just created it in a computer program and self-printed them. But we ended up with more than 800 presales. That’s probably the first time I started to realize this was going to be a lot bigger than me.”

Both Guizar and Davis said that working for the ministry has deepened their spiritual lives.
“I get to come to work every day with someone who prays with me, asks me about my prayer life, who really lives an example of personal holiness,” said Guizar of Davis, “it’s so good for me.”

She continued, “My spiritual life has changed dramatically through the discipline of prayer. I feel drawn to live a life of integrity. If I'm asking a woman to do something in her life, I better be doing it as well... like I have to be living this out in order to talk about it.”

Guizar recounts growing up in a dynamic youth group in the Diocese of Phoenix: “After youth group there was nothing to fill that void of community in my life as an adult. We had good friends and we had a good parish, but we didn’t feel like we were growing in our faith, and we didn’t feel like our relationships were really rooted in Christ.”

“I needed this community for my own conversion” Guizar said.

She recalls feeling a growing sense of isolation as a young mother, struggling to find her place in the Church.

“I wasn’t homeschooling my kids or doing liturgical crafts. I was fascinated by that experience when I read about it, but it wasn’t my life. I felt like I had more questions than answers. I didn’t have any wisdom or experience to offer.”

That’s when Guizar conceived of a daily Bible devotional modelled after some of the Protestant women’s ministries she admired. “I knew of all these Catholic bloggers, women with a deeper knowledge of Scripture and with more formation than me, so I reached out and invited them to contribute.”

That was back in the fall of 2014. The first Blessed is She devotion went out on September 1, 2014. By the end of the year, more than 200 women had signed up to receive the emails. By 2015, that number had increased to more than 2,000 women. And by early 2019, that number had risen to more than 60,000.

50% of Blessed is She participants are millennials - or younger - falling between the ages of 18 and 35. Women between 36 and 65 make up another 35% of the demographic.

Blessed is She brunches and retreats now make up a significant portion of the ministry’s focus, with more than 400 member-hosted brunches logged in 2018. So far in 2019, more than 500 women have attended a Blessed is She retreat somewhere in the US or abroad. Still to come this calendar year: retreats in Nashville, Texas, and Ireland.

If you ask for stories of how Blessed is She is impacting women’s lives, the answers come back to a common theme: community.

Oliva Spears, a Blessed is She writer who manages the site’s blog content recounts “dozens of messages” from women who are coming back to the Church through their involvement with Blessed is She:

“Faithful Catholic women who are lacking community in real life and who’ve felt like they’re the only Catholic left on the planet” are finding out they’re not alone, and being encouraged by other women who are following Christ.

Nell O’Leary, Blessed is She’s managing editor, remarks on the community built in the regional Facebook groups that becomes “real, in-the-flesh friendship.”

O’Leary said, “One older woman had prayed specifically for a young mom who was moving to her city to find the perfect house. When those two met at my Blessed Conversations group, they embraced like old friends. The bonds of sisterhood transcended age, location, and even the internet."

Bonnie Engstrom, another contributing writer, told the story of re-watching an old ‘Teachable Tuesday’ recording on Instagram with her small group in her parish:

“Beth talked about how God’s not finished until He is finished. She specifically said that to older moms whose children have left the Church and there were so many grandma’s present who felt so reassured by that. These are women who are in church every day, praying for their children. They felt heard by God through Beth’s words.”

Guizar touched on the theme of community repeatedly in an interview with CNA, emphasizing its significance to the heart of the ministry.

“I want women to know that the Lord loves them right where they’re at, and that He wants to bring restoration and healing, that He will bring it.”

When asked about how her four young children fit into the mission, Guizar acknowledged the tension between being open to life and leading an international ministry,

“Mike [my husband] is great about it, he is always saying, ‘If the Lord wants it right now, it’s going to happen.’ We don’t shy away from having more kids, because we want more kids to know the Lord, to live as missionaries in a secular culture.”

Guizar says she doesn’t have a plan for Blessed is She, but is just trying to be faithful.

“The Lord gave me Blessed is She to save my soul every day,” she said. “I really believe it was as much for me as for the women who we serve.”

“I have no idea where Blessed is She will be in five years. I had dreams at the beginning that I think have evolved now, into an acknowledgement that even if I had a plan, He would surprise me anyway. So I'm just along for the ride.”

 

 

Editor's note: In addition to her work at CNA, Jenny Uebbing is a periodic freelance contributor to Blessed is She.

 

Easter can correct society's 'bitterness and intolerance' – English bishop

Shrewsbury, England, Apr 21, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Easter is not a time for political debate, but is rather an opportunity to encounter the pinnacle of the faith – Christ’s death and resurrection, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury said in his homily for the feast.

At the April 21 Mass said at Shrewsbury Cathedral, Bishop Davies referred to increasing political bitterness and an indifference to Easter's significance.  

“Everything rests on the witness given by those who, on that first Easter morning, came to ‘see and believe'; on the witness of the Apostles and their Successors who stand with Peter in testimony that ‘God raised Jesus to life',” he said.

“In Christ’s Resurrection, we see how human life is no longer destined for death but for everlasting life and happiness. This is the joy of Easter that never fades.”

Easter is a celebration of the Christian foundation, he said, but it is not an excuse for clergyman to criticize on passing political opinions nor is it a time when political sentiments should be prioritized.

“All of our Christian faith and the whole of Christian civilisation depends on this Day,” he said.

“[Political] choices ought not to concern us on this greatest day in the Christian Calendar,” he further added.

This Easter has come at a time of much political strife, he said, noting that English society has seen a deterioration in people’s civility toward those who hold opposing beliefs. As tolerance has declined so has the culture’s comprehension of Easter and truth, he said.

“A deepening bitterness and intolerance in British society must surely be a concern for us all. It might even mark a change in our national character as disagreement and difference now too often leads to anger; enmity; no-platforming; and even threats of violence and death to those in public life.”

“We might trace this breakdown in our civility and gentle tolerance to the loss of the greater horizons which Easter celebrates. In many western societies, we see a descent into an irrationalism in which there is only ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth,’ with no hope of basing our lives and society on what is enduringly and always true. Yet, passing questions of public policy must always be seen from the perspective of what is lasting.”

He pointed to the 2010 visit of Benedict XVI to England, in which the then-pope “observed that if the only thing underpinning our democracy is an ever-changing social consensus, then the real challenge to democracy and social cohesion lies in our losing hold of the very truths which made our civilisation and society possible.”

“It is in Christ – the only person ever to have said, ‘I am the truth’ – that we find the enduring truth about the human person which has long formed the basis of our civility, our understanding of human rights and of a rule of law worth defending.”

As the British Parliament takes a break for Easter, pausing debate on Brexit, Bishop Davies applauded the respite. He expressed hope that this Easter would “return to the foundations that should always underpin our national debates.”

“On this Easter Day, we hear Saint Paul urge the first believers to cast out everything that is malice and to seek 'sincerity and truth'. This is surely the path we, too, should take for the healing of society and the recovery of our tolerance.”

“May the light of this Easter Day lead us gently as a nation to ‘see and believe’ God’s great purpose for us, and so to recognise anew the truth by which we and all of human society can be saved,” he said.

 

Sri Lanka Easter attacks draw international condemnation, prayer for victims

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 21, 2019 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- Religious and civil leaders have responded with condolences, prayer, and calls for justice after several explosions at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds more on Easter Sunday.

Calling it “a very, very sad day for all of us,” Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, canceled all remaining Easter Masses for the day in the Colombo district.

He expressed his “deepest sorrow and sympathy to all those innocent families that have lost someone, and also to those who have been injured and rendered destitute,” Vatican News reported.

“I condemn – to the utmost of my capacity – this act that has caused so much death and suffering to the people,” Ranjith said. He called for a strong and impartial inquiry to find those responsible for the attacks.

At the conclusion of his Urbi et Orbi address on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis said the violence in Sri Lanka has brought “grief and sorrow” to the people there.

“I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.

“I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished,” he said, adding his prayers for those who are injured and suffering from the attacks.

Shortly before 9 a.m., explosions were detonated during Easter Mass at Catholic churches in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and in Negombo, a city 20 miles to its north. At the same time, a bomb exploded at a service at the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.

Pews were shattered by the blast at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, and floors and ceilings were covered in blood. The Catholic shrine is the most well-known church in Sri Lanka, and is designated the country’s national shrine. The first chapel on the Church property was built during Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonial period, when Catholicism was mostly forbidden on the island.

There were also explosions Sunday morning at three luxury hotels in Colombo, and explosions outside a zoo and a private home Sunday afternoon.

In a post on Twitter, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the attacks “in the strongest terms.”

“These attacks demonstrate the brutal nature of terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten peace & security,” he said. “We offer our deepest condolences and stand with the government & people of #SriLanka.”

A spokesperson for UN Secretary General António Guterres voiced outrage at the attacks and calls for justice for perpetrators.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, the people and the Government of Sri Lanka, and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. He commends the leadership demonstrated by the authorities and unity of the people of Sri Lanka in the wake of the attacks,” the spokesperson said, adding that Guterres “reiterates the support and solidarity of the United Nations with the people and the Government of Sri Lanka in this difficult moment for the nation.”

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but a police spokesman said seven people have been arrested in connection with them, according to the AP. Some reports suggested that an additional six suspects were later arrested.

The island nation, which is home to a population of more than 21 million, has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009. More than 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslims, and fewer than 8% are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of the Sri Lanka’s Christians.

Easter brings a 'new world,' Pope Francis says in Urbi et Orbi

Vatican City, Apr 21, 2019 / 04:56 am (CNA).- Christ’s resurrection ushers in a new world – one of peace, love, and fraternity, Pope Francis said on Easter Sunday, as he prayed for the many people who are suffering throughout the world.

“Christ is alive and he remains with us. Risen, he shows us the light of his face, and he does not abandon all those experiencing hardship, pain and sorrow,” Pope Francis said April 21.

“Yet Easter is also the beginning of the new world, set free from the slavery of sin and death: the world open at last to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of love, peace and fraternity.”

Pope Francis gave the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica following Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

He forwent giving a homily at Mass this year, and instead paused for a moment of silent reflection following the Gospel.

“Urbi et Orbi” means “To the City [of Rome] and to the World” and is a special apostolic blessing given by the pope every year on Easter Sunday, Christmas, and other special occasions.

Christ’s resurrection is “the principle of new life for every man and every woman,” the pope said in his blessing, explaining that “true renewal always begins from the heart, from the conscience.”

Francis prayed for the many people throughout the world living in places experiencing conflict, tension, and violence.

Beginning with Syria, he said there is a risk of becoming resigned and indifferent to the ongoing conflict in that country and emphasized that now is the time for a renewed commitment to a political solution for the humanitarian crisis in the country.

People there are hoping for “freedom, peace and justice,” he said, urging solutions for a safe re-entry to the country for those who have been displaced, especially in Lebanon and Jordan.

The pope prayed for Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen, that they would continue to “patiently persevere in their witness to the Risen Lord and to the victory of life over death.”

“May the light of Easter illumine all government leaders and peoples in the Middle East, beginning with Israelis and Palestinians, and spur them to alleviate such great suffering and to pursue a future of peace and stability,” he stated.

He begged for an end to conflict and bloodshed in Libya, and for peace on the entire African conflict, particularly in the countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, and South Sudan.

Recalling the spiritual retreat held at the Vatican earlier this month for several religious and political leaders of South Sudan, he prayed for the opening of “a new page” in the history of the country.

Francis prayed for the peace of Easter to bring comfort to the people of the eastern regions of Ukraine.

For the American continent, he invoked the joy of the resurrection for all those experiencing difficult political and economic situations.

Underlining the situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, he asked the Lord to “grant that all those with political responsibilities may work to end social injustices, abuses and acts of violence, and take the concrete steps needed to heal divisions and offer the population the help they need.”

Let there be an end to the arms race and to the “troubling spread of weaponry,” he added.

“Before the many sufferings of our time, may the Lord of life not find us cold and indifferent. May he make us builders of bridges, not walls,” Francis stated.

He added: “May the Risen Christ, who flung open the doors of the tomb, open our hearts to the needs of the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, the poor, the unemployed, the marginalized, and all those who knock at our door in search of bread, refuge, and the recognition of their dignity.”

“Today the Church renews the proclamation made by the first disciples: ‘Jesus is risen!’ And from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart, there resounds a call to praise: ‘Alleluia, Alleluia!’” he rejoiced.

Quoting from Christus vivit, his recently-published apostolic exhortation on young people, the pope said “Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you.”

“However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for your to return to him and start over again.”

At the end of the blessing, Pope Francis expressed his sorrow for several bombings which took place in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka Sunday morning. More than 100 people were killed and hundreds injured in explosions at three luxury hotels and three churches.

St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Catholic parish in Negombo were targeted, as well as the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo.

Francis entrusted to the Lord those who have died and been wounded, and all who are suffering because of the attack: “I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.

The pope wished all those gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and all those participating via radio or television, a happy Easter, noting that it was on Easter Sunday 70 years ago that a pope spoke for the first time on television.

Venerable Pope Pius XII addressed the viewers of French TV, “underlining how the eyes of the Successor of Peter and the faithful could also meet through a new means of communication,” he said.

“This occasion offers me the opportunity to encourage Christian communities to use all the tools that the technique makes available to announce the good news of the risen Christ.”

Francis also thanked the donors of the flowers in St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, which came from the Netherlands and Slovenia.

“Enlightened by the light of Easter, we carry the scent of the Risen Christ into the solitude, into the misery, into the suffering of so many of our brothers, reversing the stone of indifference,” he concluded.

A plenary indulgence, or the remittance of temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven, is granted to those who participate in the Urbi et Orbi blessing in person or through radio, television, or the internet.

The usual conditions for a plenary indulgence must be met: the individual must be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also pray for the pope's intentions and sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion up to about twenty days before or after the indulgenced act.

Sri Lanka Easter church and hotel bombings kill at least 200

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 21, 2019 / 01:45 am (CNA).- At least 200 people were killed in explosions Easter morning, detonated in churches other sites across Sri Lanka. Hundreds more are reportedly injured.

At 8:45 a.m., explosions were detonated during Easter Mass at churches in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and in Negombo, a city 20 miles to its north. At the same time, a bomb exploded at a service at the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.

 St. Anthony’s Shrine was the Catholic church targeted in Colombo, and St. Sebastian’s is the Catholic parish in Negombo.

Pews were shattered by the blast at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, and floors and ceilings were covered in blood. The shrine is the most well-known Church in Sri Lanka, and is designated the country’s national shrine. The first chapel on the Church property was built during Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonial period, when Catholicism was mostly forbidden on the island.

There were also explosions Sunday morning at three luxury hotels in Colombo, and explosions outside a zoo and a private home Sunday afternoon.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, called on Sri Lankans to remain “united and strong” in the face of “cowardly attacks on our people today.”

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but a police spokesman said seven people have been arrested in connection with them, according to the AP. Some reports suggested that an additional six suspects were later arrested.

In recent weeks, there has been concern that Sri Lankans who had been part of the Islamic State could become a threat, as they have begun returning to the country from the Middle East, according to the BBC.

The country has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009.  

Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal; its population is more than 21 million. More than 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslims, and fewer than 8% are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of the Sri Lanka’s Christians.

In a January 2015 visit to the country, Pope Francis urged peace and reconciliation among the country's rival factions.

“In this difficult effort to forgive and find peace, Mary is always here to encourage us, to guide us, to lead us,” the pope said Jan. 14, 2015, at the Our Lady of Madhu shrine in Sri Lanka's Mannar district.

“Just as she forgave her son's killers at the foot of his cross, then held his lifeless body in her hands, so now she wants to guide Sri Lankans to greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God's pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all.”

This story is developing and will continue to be updated.

 

Pope Francis at Easter Vigil: Ask Christ to roll back the stone blocking your heart

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- In his Easter Vigil homily, Pope Francis said that the Risen Christ desires to “roll back the stone” that blocks the entrance to one’s heart, so that God’s light and love can enter.

“The Lord calls us to get up, to rise at his word, to look up and to realize that we were made for heaven, not for earth, for the heights of life and not for the depths of death,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica April 20.

“Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones. So let us first ask: What is the stone that I need to remove, what is its name?” he asked.

Pope Francis said the “stone of sin” blocks many hearts. “Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away,” he explained.

“Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death,” he said, adding that with Christ we can pass “from self-centredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence.”

“Why not prefer Jesus, the true light, to the glitter of wealth, career, pride and pleasure? Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?” Francis asked.

The Vatican Easter Vigil Mass began with the blessing of the new fire in the atrium and the blessing of the paschal candle. The pope then processed into the dark church carrying the lit candle to signify the light of Christ coming to dispel the darkness.

“Today, let us remember how Jesus first called us, how he overcame our darkness, our resistance, our sins, and how he touched our hearts with his word,” he said.

Francis warned against having a “museum faith” instead of a living, “Easter faith.” Christ is “a person living today,” he said, not only a person from the past. “We encounter him in life.”

“Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Christ. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged,” he said.

Pope Francis described Christ’s love as the “one non-negotiable certitude we have in this life.”

“The Lord loves your life, even when you are afraid to look at it,” he said.

“In Easter he shows you how much he loves that life: even to the point of … experiencing anguish, abandonment, death and hell, in order to emerge triumphant to tell you: ‘You are not alone; put your trust in me!’” he continued.

During the Easter Vigil Mass, Pope Francis administered the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist -- to eight people, from Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Albania, and Indonesia.

“Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the centre of our lives,” Pope Francis said. “Let us seek him in all things and above all things. With him, we will rise again.”