Pope condemns Easter bomb attacks

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Pope Francis on Sunday condemned attacks that killed at least 156 people in three churches and four hotels in Sri Lanka as “such cruel violence” and said he was close to the Christian community, hit while celebrating Easter.

The blasts, which hospital and police officials said wounded more than 400 people, followed a lull in major attacks since the end of the civil war 10 years ago.

“I learned with sadness and pain of the news of the grave attacks, that precisely today, Easter, brought mourning and pain to churches and other places where people were gathered in Sri Lanka,” Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square to hear his Easter Sunday “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message.

“I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, hit while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” said Francis, who visited Sri Lanka in 2015.

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“I entrust to the Lord those who have tragically died and I pray for the wounded and for all those who are suffering as a result of this dramatic event,” he said.

A series of eight devastating bomb blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday, killing nearly 160 people, including dozens of foreigners.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also condemned the attacks — the worst act of violence since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war a decade ago — as “cowardly”, and said the government was working to “contain the situation”.

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The powerful blasts -– six in quick succession and then two more hours later — wrought devastation, including at the capital’s well-known St Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic Church.

Hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens were among the 158 dead overall, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man also died, the country’s LUSA news agency reported.

An AFP photographer at the scene at St Anthony’s saw bodies lying on the floor, some draped with scarves and clothes.

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