Fr. Jude Raj Fernando, the rector of St. Anthony’s shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka – one of the churches bombed during on Easter Sunday by a group affiliated with Islamic State, has described his pastoral work with victims of the attack as a long journey of faith.

Speaking recently of his painful pastoral experience at an Aid to the Church in Need event in Rome on the ongoing persecution of Christians, Fr. Fernando explained in tears:

“I had never heard a sound like that. My first words after the blast were ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’”

“There was a young couple married eight months before together at Easter Sunday Mass … and a man who had given an older lady his seat … a pregnant mother who lost her husband.”

He noted that this woman gave birth to a healthy baby last week and she is now a single mother.

Along with offering trauma counseling at the parish, Fernando said that the local Church remains committed to aiding the religious education of the children who lost parents and occupational training for households that lost their breadwinner.

People at the parish are still asking, “Why did God allow this to happen to us?” he said. A young child asked him ‘why did God take my mother from me at church?’

“We priests walked this difficult journey with our victims,” Fernando said. “It is a long journey of faith.”

“Please continue to pray for us … we can overcome evil with the love in our hearts,” he said. “Our faith is stronger than their bomb.”

Fr. Fernando spoke in the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island, a basilica devoted to the Church’s modern martyrs and home to 120 relics of persecuted Christian communities around the world.