25 May, 2024

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Sri Lankan Catholic Church To Declare Easter Sunday Attack Victims As Saints: A Comment 

By Leonard Jayawardena –

Leonard Jayawardena

The Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has reportedly announced that those who died in the Easter Sunday attacks against the Catholic churches will be declared as saints.

Daily Mirror Online, January 21, reports, “Speaking during a service at St. Sebastian’s Church, Kandana, Cardinal Ranjith said the first step towards this move will be taken on April 21 this year when the country commerates [sic] the fifth anniversary of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks.” It quotes the Cardinal as saying, “Those who died in churches on April 21, 2019 sacrificed their lives for what they believed. They came to church on that day because they believed in Christ. They sacrificed their lives because they loved Christ like other saints.”

This announcement by the Sri Lankan Catholic Church raises some issues, the principal one of which is, Were the Easter Sunday attack victims true martyrs for their faith? Did they really sacrifice their lives for the love of Christ? This question is especially pertinent in the case of those who perished in the attacks against the churches but were not even professed Catholics. Another issue—but not a concern of this article—is, In view of the fact that the process of declaring one a saint in the Catholic Church, called canonization, is a lengthy one with many steps involving the Vatican, how is it possible for the Sri Lankan Catholic Church to make such a declaration?

A martyr is “a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.” In the Sri Lankan Catholic Church’s view, the Easter Sunday victims who died in the two Roman Catholic churches targeted, viz., St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, sacrificed their lives for their faith and so were martyrs worthy of the title “saint.” [Note 1] I see two problems with this view.

First, martyrdom is a volitional act but, as far as the victims of the bombings were concerned, their deaths were only an accident. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had they known that the Easter Sunday bombers would strike the churches they did on that Sunday, they would not have attended them that day. None of them had the slightest intention or willingness to be a martyr for their faith on that day (or any other day!).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines martyrdom as “the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude” (paragraph 2473). This definition clearly presupposes that martyrdom is a volitional act.

Second, as stated in my two Colombo Telegraph articles on the Easter Sunday attack conspiracy theory (here and here), the terrorists’ declared primary motive for attacking the churches as stated in their farewell video was to avenge the massacre of Muslim worshippers in the Christchurch mosques in New Zealand on 15 March 2019 by Brenton Tarrant, the killer, who had inscribed the guns he used in the massacre with the names of various historical figures that fought against Muslim armies, especially during the Crusades (a series of medieval military expeditions made by mainly Roman Catholic Europeans to the Holy Land in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries), and the names of such battles. The Islamic State, to which the local jihadis had pledged allegiance, held that Christians everywhere were legitimate targets for them by their association with the religion of the Crusaders, whose modern counterparts they considered to be Western countries. Hence those killed in the churches during the Easter Sunday attack were largely victims of a settling of scores in a feud between Christendom and Islam that goes back a long way and in which they played no direct part.

Having announced the formation of a caliphate with himself as the Caliph on 29 June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the then leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (=Syria), i.e., ISIS, instructed followers unable to travel to Iraq and Syria to kill non-Muslims in the country or the region where they resided. The territories IS envisaged controlling by 2020 included Sri Lanka. In its map, Sri Lanka was identified as a part of the Khorasan province. Hence the terrorists also would have had the general objective of killing infidels but, as stated above, their primary objective in attacking the churches was to avenge the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand.

What about the non-Catholic attendees of the churches who perished on that day? Did they also sacrifice their lives for the love of Christ and are they also to be declared as “saints”? Some Catholic churches, St. Anthony’s Church especially, are also patronised by many non-Catholics and on that day a number of them, too, died. Non-Catholics attend these churches purely to seek the intercession of their patron saints for various benefits and not because of any love for Christ or God (at least, not in any meaningful way). Even in the case of Catholics, while in theory Jesus Christ holds an exalted position in the theology of the Catholic Church, for most members at least, at a popular and practical level, the real foci of attention and veneration are Mary and the saints.

It is questionable whether those who are to be declared “saints” qualify for that title even by the criteria of the Catholic Church. I have not dealt with the issue of the Catholic Church’s use of the term “saint” to refer to a special category of (departed) believers who exist in heaven and are able to intercede on behalf of believers on earth and how that belief is unsupported by the Bible. [Note 2]

In conclusion, this recent announcement of the Sri Lankan Catholic Church appears to amount to another error besides that of obstinately maintaining there was a conspiracy behind the Easter Sunday attacks in spite of the lack of compelling evidence for it and many facts and arguments to the contrary. One can understand the Sri Lankan Catholic Church’s desire to provide “justice” to the deceased victims of the Easter Sunday bombings and to provide consolation to the living by declaring them as saints but does adding comedy to tragedy really help?

Notes

1. There is a commemorative plaque in St. Anthony’s Church naming those who died on 21 April 2019 in the church (57 in number), which opens with the words, “They laid down their lives for God!”

2. According to the Roman Catholic Church, “saints” are “persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their life for others, or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation.”

They are also considered intecessories to God on behalf of the living and worthy of veneration.

We get the word “saint” from the Latin sanctus via Middle English and Old French. In the Latin Vulgate, a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible that became the Catholic Church’s officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible, this word is the equivalent of the Greek word hagios (transliteration), the plural form of which (hagioi) is used in the Greek New Testament to refer to Christian believers many times and means “holy/consecrated ones.” For example, Romans 16:15: “Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints [Greek hagioi] who are with them.” The Greek word hagioi here is rendered in the Latin Vulgate by a form of sanctus.

In the New Testament the word hagioi (“saints”), when used substantively, generally refers to Christian believers on earth but Catholic exegesis (erroneously) sees a reference to departed believers who exist in heaven in a conscious state in some occurrences of this word in the New Testament, who form a special category of believers and are the referent in the default sense of the word “saint” in Catholicism. A demonstration of this error lies beyond the scope of this article.

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    lol at this rate there will be no difference between Hinduism and Catholicism , There will be saints or sub gods coming out of the woodwork.

    • 2
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      Cardinal is playing poltics, sainthood is a long process, he is trying to gain popularity.

      • 5
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        So all you self-believed “grownups” …….. are busy playing the blame game ………. while all the political murders go unsolved, uh?

        Is the Easter-bombings the only unsolved murder/murders? …….. What about Lasantha, Eknalligoda, Thadudeen, ……. ? There is a culture of impunity for Lankan politicians ……. they can do any crime and get away with it!

        All ye intelligent/educated/knowledgably/illustrious/esteemed (intelligent/educated/knowledgably/illustrious/esteemed …. than the politicians?) ……… sons and daughters of Mother Lanka should focus your attention there!

        The murdered are not holding their breath ……. for you guys to shape-up and come to the party. :))

        • 5
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          Nimal , absolutely right .

  • 9
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    LJ,
    Don’t Put the blame on Muslims for a terror attacked planned and implemented by the master mind to get the Sinhala only votes.

    • 0
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      Ajith – Having a mastermind who planned and implemented the act is not a reason to absolve those who carried out the actual act, for which radicalised islam provided a fertile ground. Why did the ISIS took responsibility if the masterminds were someone else, is another question?

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        Ruchira:
        “Why did the ISIS took [sic] responsibility if the masterminds were someone else, is another question?”

        The IS did take responsibility but, according to available evidence, their role in the Easter Sunday attacks were mainly that of inspiring the local jihadis, who followed their ideology, in which waging jihad against infidels was an important component. In that sense they WERE responsible. The IS also took responsibility for the suicide bomb attacks on Palm Sunday in 2017 at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt and three churches in Indonesia, where a family of six, including a nine-year-old girl, blew themselves up. For more details on this , see my first CT article at https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/was-there-a-conspiracy-behind-the-easter-sunday-bomb-attacks/

        • 3
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          LJ – Thanks for explaining the ISIS involvement and the other examples provided. Having read one of your previous pieces, I am somewhat familiar with your line of thinking in regards to the matter of Easter Attack.

          • 5
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            R
            LJ is not the most objective observer around.

            • 2
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              SJ – You can’t blame him. The security expert Rohan Gunaratne has written a whole book about the subject and he too would vouch that there were no conspiracies involved.

      • 5
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        Ruchira,
        Do you know the relationship between the mastermind and the bombers and how long they are working together? Do you think, radicalised Islam leader wanted to kill him in this bomb blast? What happened to that radicalised Islam now? Why the radicalised Islam did not touched Buddhist Temples?

        • 0
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          Ajith – What have the answers to any of the questions you have raised got to do with my comment that stated having a mastermind is no reason to absolve those who carried out the actual bombing from any wrong doing?

          • 1
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            R
            That is an unfair question from someone who often does not understand what he writes.

            • 0
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              SJ – :-D

  • 7
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    “The Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has reportedly announced that those who died in the Easter Sunday attacks against the Catholic churches will be declared as saints.”
    So our Cardinal can canonise at will?
    I think that he derservesd to be canonized one one day for his record breaking feat of canonizing
    *
    Poor Mother Teresa, it took quite a while to be canonizing. Sadly, she did not have the services of our man!

    • 5
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      Poor Mother Teresa, it took quite a while to be canonized. Sadly, she did not have the services of our man!

    • 4
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      SJ:
      I have now checked with more media reports and it appears that the normal process will be followed prior to the victims being canonized.

      My main concern in this matter is whether those to be declared saints really qualify for the title “saints” even by the criteria of the Catholic Church.

      • 3
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        In particular, I question whether the victims were true martyrs for their faith.

        • 4
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          The suicide bombers themselves died quite willing in the churches. Will the Cardinal canonize them too? Just asking…

        • 1
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          They loyally attended church mass, didn’t they?
          Who are we lesser mortals to pass judgment on others?

          • 0
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            SJ:
            Is your comment ironical or serious?

          • 2
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            SJ,
            All must be treated equally.🙂🙂

          • 0
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            SJ:
            Oh, I see now that your comment is related to OC’s comment. On some devices what comment another comment is aligned with is not easy to see.

      • 0
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        Announcing something like what he did it rather arrogant.
        I trust that you can see it.
        Saying that they should be or deserve to be is not the same as saying they will be.
        The man is not past rank opportunism.

  • 7
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    There is no doubt that Rajapaksa (Kaputa, Gota, Mara) was behind the Easter Sunday bombings. Radical Muslims are looking to use weak states/locations to play their germs to gain world attention.
    They want to harm people by bombing or setting fire and enjoying the destruction. All this was premediated in the close ties of Muslims close to the Rajapaksa clan. That is what I now believe it was a calculated act with the mediation of Rajapakshe criminals.

    The Rajapakses thought that killing the people with bombs like this would allow them to seize power through “security first, which can only be built by RAJAPAKSHEs”: exactly that worked for them to claim a land slide victory. they are a morally sick families. That Shiranthi the bandit- queen was seen sitting with Rev Malcolm Ranjith again and again. Rajapakse worked for Catholic votes, Muslim votes and the votes of the grass-eaters in the southern province and Tamil votes in their plantations. Prabhakaran didn’t EVEN harm this much but Rajapakshes did, on April 21, 2019 by killing those innocent worshipers. The photos went around the world saying that nothing happened anywhere before the kind of mlechcha levels.

    • 9
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      Sanath Nishantha died in an accident. ( the guy who wanted to break legs of Aragalaya ). Will he be going to Hell or a place much worse for people like him ???? Feel bad for the poor policeman / personal security guard, who accompanied him.

      • 9
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        Chiv,
        Whoever he was, he was a headache for many of us. Isn’t that the common identity of the rogue politicians around the Rajapakse gang?
        He was the one who questioned what the use of “oxygen” was.
        This man is another prey of Rajapakse rascality.
        .
        But I really don’t like JVP and their CYBER forces making damn statements on youtube videos. What happened to this culture? People are like Hyenas.
        Some make predictions that the next human sacrifice will be ” naki Minah”:

      • 1
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        So, he will meet with those who waged war on defenceless nations.

  • 8
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    Saints? Did they all live a saintly life? Iam sure lots of them were not that saintly to be canonized and declared as saints? Whan did the Catholic church in Sri Lanka, or the very political and racist Cardinal have the power to canonize them? I thought it takes a very long procedure and is done at the Vatican. What about all the victims’ who died in the tourist hotels by these same bombings? They are not saints as they did not die in the church but elsewhere and may not have been Catholic? So, do not deserve sainthood? Strange the Cardinal calls his fellow Catholics who were victims of the Easter bombing and died in Catholic churches in the Chingkalla South as Saints and wants them to be declared as Saints, irrespective of whether lives a saintly life or not.

    • 5
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      PK:
      “Whan did the Catholic church in Sri Lanka, or the very political and racist Cardinal have the power to canonize them? I thought it takes a very long procedure and is done at the Vatican. “

      I have made a correction of my initial misapprehension in another comment. The normal process of canonization will be followed in this case too. But that is only a minor point not forming a concern of this article as I have stated.

      PK:
      “What about all the victims’ who died in the tourist hotels by these same bombings?”

      Good question. They all died the same way and the deaths of the bomb victims in the churches were no less an accident than the deaths of those who perished in the hotels.

      • 3
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        Or even the victims of the Protestant Christian church in Batticaloa another target of the Easter Bombers? Why they are not worthy of being declared saints, as they were all Thamizh and belonged to another branch of Christianity? This may the reason the racist political Cardinal took his own time to visit this Church as the victims were Thamizh Protestant Christians.

  • 7
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    However, this Chingkalla cardinal considered the thousands of Thamizh civilians. many of whom were Catholic too, who were victims of war crimes by the Chingkalla Sri Lankan state in May 2009 and were deliberately targeted and killed as just collateral damage and even tried to fool the UN and the Vatican that nothing happened, as the victims were Thamizh, no sainthood for them. He was the mouthpiece for the racist war criminal Rajapaksas and was doing and dancing to their bidding and the southern Chingkalla Catholic church was then preaching some form of racist Chingkalla Catholic doctrine, conveniently forgetting more than 90% of the so called Chingkalla Catholics ancestors a generation or two ago were Thamizh.

  • 4
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    Martyrs are only part of the assembly of saints. It was during the consecration of the body and blood of Christ when the chalice was raised and the bells were ringing, that they were killed. These people were at their holiest state when they died. Therefore they would have gone straight to heaven.

    • 3
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      Ramona:
      “It was during the consecration of the body and blood of Christ when the chalice was raised and the bells were ringing, that they were killed.”

      In both churches? What about those in the Protestant church in Batticaloa (Zion)?

      Ramona:
      “These people were at their holiest state when they died. Therefore they would have gone straight to heaven.”

      Your Catholic upbringing is evident in the very superstitious view belief expressed here. How does consecration and raising of the chalice cause those present to be “at their holiest state”? The only true holiness recognized in the Bible is moral holiness. According to your beliefs, even the most morally wicked person would be elevated to their “holiest state” simply by being present in church when the Eucharistic elements are consecrated, the chalice raised, etc.

      These future “saints,” even when they were in their “holiest state,” would have made a bolt for the door and fallen over one another in their rush to get out of the churches if someone had shouted a warning about the bombers!

      Prior knowledge of martyrdom and willingness to undergo it are necessary prerequisites for there to be a true martyrdom. That is simple common sense.

      • 0
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        Leonard,

        Well,…..I mean….according to the bible and logical analysis of church doctrine, when one is absolutely sorry for their sins, one goes straight to heaven….even the worst of sinners. And at the raising of the chalice and the ringing of the bells, one is at their most penitent and reverent selves. That together with the words of Christ on eating his body and drinking his blood so they would have eternal life within them (well, they were going to do it very soon……they were anticipating it), means that that moment of consecration was a very powerful one.

        Not sure if the Batticaloa church had that doctrine, so not sure of their after-life status. Maybe they had other ways of going to heaven. Many were children, so guess they too went to heaven and are saints. But let’s pray to all of them and see if any miracles occur. Then they can be canonized. (Let’s all pray through them, that Ranil and the rest of the Rajapaksas……Vroosh….Vamoose!!!).

        Ps. You don’t need to be a Martyr to become a Saint.

        • 0
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          Ramona:
          “And at the raising of the chalice and the ringing of the bells, one is at their most penitent and reverent selves. … [T]hat moment of consecration was a very powerful one.”

          Are you sure that the bombings took place in both Catholic churches at this special time? What is your evidence for it? What if the bombs had exploded a minute or two before the consecration of the elements started? What about 15 minutes or so later or when they were about to leave church after Mass?

          The “penitence” you are talking about does not happen actually–I was once a Catholic myself, so I should know–and even if it does, it doesn’t happen in a meaningful way.
          What is the use of a “penitence” that occurs every Sunday at Mass but has no reflection in the daily lives of the attendees? Real penitence should result in morally changed lives; it is not some temporary state that exists only at a particular time in a religious service. Catholics on average are no better morally/spiritually than adherents of other religions, so this “penitence” you are talking about is meaningless.

          The God of the Bible is not a fool.

          Continued.

        • 1
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          Ramona:
          “You don’t need to be a Martyr to become a Saint.”

          That is implied in the first para. of Note 2 of my article:

          “According to the Roman Catholic Church, ‘saints’ are ‘persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their life for others, or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation.’”

        • 1
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          Ramona:

          The Catholic Church canonizing those who attended Mass on that fateful Sunday leads one to imagine this scenario.

          There were Catholics who died in the three hotels and had attended midnight mass in the two churches (Anthony’s and Sebastian’s) the previous night. They are now in purgatory and suffering in its “cleansing fire,” having to wait for perhaps thousands of years before qualifying for heaven, and thinking, “Oh shucks (or shit!), I wish I had waited to attend the morning Easter Sunday Mass, for then I would have got a straight pass to heaven and would have received a sainthood to boot”!

          • 0
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            Around that time, it is equally powerful too, Leonard. Closer to the time, it is even better of course. Definitely better that before you go to church or after church. I mean, even the Buddhist chant the Vandana and have bells and flowers and things before they enter into a state of meditation, reflection, and forgiveness (I am more prone to Buddhism I realize, although once in a while I indulge in alternate religions……might be a sin, but not sure….Buddhist rebirth belief is profound). Physical and psychological aids help one to enter into elevated states.

            Temporary states of penitence, devotion, and adoration is always with the intention of transforming daily life. If one sins after that, the sins would not be so great for there is remembrance that they made a contract with God (or oneself, if one is more Buddhistic)…it’s a gradual method of conversion you see; something that goes on throughout life. Of course, it beats asking forgiveness and then continuing to sin gleefully (those people are a bit mentally off, for it beats logical analysis of both human and divine intent….but I know some people like that). So if one dies in this temporary state of grace, that’s all it takes to enter paradise and become a saint. Or one is on a faster track to becoming an Arahant.

  • 0
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    Good haeven will be a crowded place…!

  • 0
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    “the terrorists’ declared primary motive for attacking the churches as stated in their farewell video was to avenge the massacre of Muslim worshippers in the Christchurch mosques in New Zealand on 15 March 2019 by Brenton Tarrant, the killer…”

    Correct, Rajapakse had no involvement in these bombings. The main suspects were well-known to the police. There were numerous warnings from India about a possible attack. Politicians cannot hire suicide bombers, as this kind of service is not offered by the underworld. They usually hire hitmen to carry out targeted assassinations.

  • 1
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    a month ago, it was the funeral of Mahendra Rajapakshe s Goebells, Jackson Anthony. Now it has been the death of Sanath Nishantha of Puththalama.It seems that the nature punishes their real criminals that work for MARA et al.
    # All in all, people seem to stir up their anger whenever they are compelled to watch the faces of Rajapakshes and their henchmen come and pay respect to their lackey. We remember, even forgetten or ignored electricity bills of bastard sons of MaRa was paid by the dead person, without any shame and honour. The kind of men were trained by MARA et al to mislead the rural community and grab their votes for their politicial survival.

    • 1
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      I am not particularly religious myself, but one could argue that “karma” has some parallel to Newton’s “action-reaction.” LTTE tried numerous times to assassinate MaRa, what happened at the end, LTTE leaders were executed at Nanthikadal with the leader enjoying the axe treatment. Gota also survived a bomb attack and became president. What about that loser, CBK. After looting the country and losing many battles, she was ready to negotiate “devolution” with terrorists. They gave her a glass eye and she ran away to UK. Here is a nice quote from Confucius: “Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.”

      On the question of whether the people at the church deserve to be “saints”, can we not argue that organized religion just adds to the entropy in the Universe. Disorder is random, therefore they were in the church only by chance. What is more interesting, the bombers did not choose the Catholic churches by chance. There is a lot of idolatry in Catholicism. Islam looks down on idolatry more than anything else.

  • 2
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    When Christian and Jewish nations killed people of other religions, where would the victims go?
    The US-led Christian coalition has killed millions of people in Asia and West Asia for decades. Do Christian nations have different humanitarian and human rights laws? Yes! Because, the international laws are formulated in a way that justifies war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, arbitrary arrests and forced displacements committed against non-Christian countries.
    Take the genocide committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip for example. Within 15 weeks, Israel has killed over 25,500 non-combatants, the majority are children and women, injured over 65,000 and displaced 1.9 million people in the Gaza Strip. In addition, over 10,000 people believed to be under rubble including the children left to be decomposed in hospitals. By early January, 2024, Israel had dropped over 65,000 tons of US-made explosives in the OCCUPIED Gaza Strip. These numbers are even “gut wrenching” to the US State Department which approved supplying weapons to Israel on an urgent basis.
    While the entire world helplessly watched the Gaza carnage for nearly 4 months, ironically, the Christian majority South Africa demanded justice for Palestinians at the International Court of Justice.
    Contd’……

    • 2
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      There will be a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday, January 26 on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel. Will they intervene to stop the carnage in Gaza? I hope for the best given the fact that Gaza Strip has been an occupied territory since 1948 due to failed promises by Britain and the United Nations. That means, the Palestinian question is not a security issue between Israel and Hamas, but an international case between the UN and Palestine.
      I was surprised to learn that on 9 July 2004, the ICJ had already given a ruling nullifying Israel’s claim for self-defense in the “occupied” Palestine territory. (For nearly two weeks, I was waiting to write about this. Finally, I found this space.) Israel had not respected the previous ICJ ruling and continuously violated international laws with the support of the US, Britain and their allies. After the 2004 ruling, Arab countries had tried to submit a resolution at the UNSC, but as usual, the US had blocked it. Given the past history of Israel undermining ICJ rulings, I hope Friday’s ruling will have a significant impact on Israel’s intolerable genocide and mass atrocities committed in the “occupied Palestinian territory” for over 75 years.

      • 0
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        Hello, can someone write an article on the ICJ ruling in Israeli genocide case, please?

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