Adam Dean/The New York Times

People pray on the street near St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 28, 2019. The archbishop of Colombo, who called off Mass at the country’s churches for security reasons, conducted a televised Sunday service from his home.

April 29, 2019

Cornell to Honor Victims of Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday Attack in Vigil

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Cornell students will gather on Wednesday to honor the victims of last week’s Sri Lanka bombings, in which terrorists blasted several Catholic churches and luxury hotels, killing over 300 people on Easter Sunday.

The vigil will take place this Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m. at Ho Plaza. 178 people currently say they plan on attending the event, according to a Facebook post. The vigil, which is sponsored by the Sri Lankan Society, was organized by three students of Sri Lankan descent and Cornell Catholic.

“We’re hosting the event to honor the innocent victims of the heinous bombings that happened in the country that I was born and raised in,” Ishini Gammanpila ‘22, one of the vigil’s organizers, told The Sun in a Facebook message.

Gammanpila was nine years old when the civil war — which had been raging for 26 years — ended. Now, nearly a decade later, the bombings “just brought back all these horrible memories and made me worry so much about my family and friends still living there,” she said.

She hopes the vigil will provide a safe space for discussion and reflection.

“The vigil would help speak out about how they feel and to just create a space where everyone can feel safe,” Gammanpila added.

The event will feature lights for attendees to hold as well as speeches from student organizers, according to Gammanpila. Afterwards, those who wish to continue the discussion are invited to sit inside Willard Straight Hall for chai tea.

Gammanpila hopes the vigil will offer “some kind of closure” — a chance to pay respects and “to pray as a community hoping we’d come out of this incident strong.”

Vincenzo Guido ’20, a minister with Cornell Catholic, is also looking for community closure and hopes the vigil will provide support for targeted groups.

“The vigil aims, first and foremost, to memorialize and recall the lives of those taken … in what appears to be a religiously motivated, targeted assault on Christian minorities in Sri Lanka,” he told The Sun in a text message. “We first wish to pray for the souls of the faithful departed and for reconciliation among all faith traditions in hopes of promoting an environment for peace and coexistence.”

Guido emphasized the communal value of holding the vigil, affirming that it was not just held for Christian community members.

“I firmly believe also that in these intentions and thoughts are those lost in the horrific attacks on Muslim and Jewish communities in recent weeks who share a common experience of martyrdom,” he said.

The impact of the devastating Easter Sunday attack has rippled across the globe, reaching Cornell’s campus, located 8,670 miles away from the South Asian country, where Cornellians of Sri Lankan heritage were left reeling and worried.

“We don’t know anything,” Piragash Swargaloganathan ’19, who struggled to get in touch with relatives from the country, previously told The Sun. “As much as this attack came to us as shocking … at the same time, this is not something out of the ordinary.”

The suicide attacks last weekend struck three Christian churches and three luxury hotels popular among foreigners in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city and capital. The bombings — aimed at Easter worshippers celebrating one of Catholicism’s most religiously important days — have triggered the resignation of several key government officials, including the Secretary to the Minister of Defense.

In a 68-word message, President Martha Pollack decried the deadly bombings, which have now claimed close to 320 victims and several American citizens, up from original estimates of 200. A total of 500 people have been wounded.

“As we all try to grasp yet another atrocity in the world targeting people based solely on their religious affiliation, let us reach out to those around us to stand in solidarity against violence and in support of love and compassion,” Pollack wrote in an email sent to Cornell students, which sparked criticism for its terse nature.

An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. Students can consult with counselors from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-255-5155, and employees can call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673.

Yuichiro Kakutani contributed reporting to this article.