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The tragic news from Sri Lanka struck at our hearts: at least 321 people killed and more than 500 wounded in the horrific attacks on Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the Christian year. Sri Lanka has also seen more than its fair share of violence with nearly three decades of civil war having taken thousands of lives. The fact that terror is now a new threat is heartbreaking.
Still worse, this was no isolated incident. We have seen an epidemic of terror attacks on houses of worship—most recently on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and before that arson of Black churches in Louisiana, mass murder in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the shootings at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
The suffering caused by these attacks is incalculable. The cutting short of so many lives, the grief of families, the devastation of communities—these are all horrors enough in themselves. But the pain goes deeper still. To attack a house of worship, to attack and murder human beings at a house of worship, strikes at the relationship between humanity and God; it strikes at what people of faith feel to be the center of what it means to be human. The Talmud in Judaism and the Qur’an in Islam both proclaim that to destroy one human life is like destroying the whole world, and other faith traditions state this principle in other ways. And who can express the horror and outrage of acts like these when they are committed precisely in the name of religion?
For Christians, Easter means the emergence of new life out of death. Other traditions likewise hold out hope of renewal even in the darkest of circumstances. Is there such hope here?
There is, if we take hold of it. These tragic events are opportunities for all of us who are watching in dismay to help the families of the victims first and foremost by donating to various fundraising campaigns, to rebuild structures that have been destroyed, to form new and mend old relationships—and above all to root out the bigotry and extremism that spawn the violence we see erupting around us.
Doing this authentically means starting with ourselves. We must root out any traces of bigotry and bias within ourselves and then, firmly and lovingly, work to root them out of our family, our community, our nation. We must all be upstanders against racism and bigotry, however and wherever they present themselves. We cannot bring the dead back to life, but we can make of these deaths and our grief the soil for new life by giving our all to building a world of mutual understanding, respect, and peace.