The triumph of God’s love over death is one of the most powerful messages of Christianity and its holiest day. For St. Margaret’s Tamil Anglican Church in Toronto, that message took on particular resonance this Easter.
By the time St. Margaret’s gathered for its Easter Sunday service, parishioners had heard the terrible news from Sri Lanka, the native country of much of the congregation. A series of coordinated suicide bombings targeting churches and hotels had occurred that would leave 253 people dead and more than 500 others injured. The church bombings targeted three houses of worship during their Easter services: Shrine of St. Anthony Church in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and Zion Church in Batticaloa.
“We were very shocked,” people’s warden Jeyaruban Selvadurai recalls of the Easter service at St. Margaret’s. “We had a prayer, we had a moment of silence, and then we had a prayer for our people…. Then we tried to help them.”
Speaking with people in Sri Lanka who had been affected by the bombings, St. Margaret’s parishioners followed their prayers with a wave of donations, made through the diocese of Toronto, to provide relief for the victims.
Bonds with Sri Lanka are strong at St. Margaret’s Tamil Anglican Church, founded almost 30 years ago by refugees fleeing the country’s protracted civil war.
“We couldn’t live there,” says Selvadurai, originally from Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka. “There was no peace. That’s the reason we left the country, and then we came over here [to Canada]. And thank God, we found a good country, because this country gave asylum for us…. We had children and everybody grew up here, in a Christian way. My children were baptized here.”
Selvadurai helped found the Tamil congregation at St. Margaret’s, which shares space with the English-speaking congregation of St. Margaret-in-the-Pines. The majority of those who made up the congregation were members of the Church of South India, a province of the Anglican Communion.
Though settled in Canada, parishioners remained close to their native country. The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora “are very much tied to Sri Lanka,” says the Rev. Irwin Sikha, incumbent at St. Margaret’s.
“Cricket is a very popular game, and if Sri Lanka wins, they all celebrate. It’s like that. They’re very much attached to their land. So [the Easter attacks] happening, it broke all their spirit.”
In response to the bombings, St. Margaret’s called for an evening of prayer and reflection. That service took place on the evening of Friday, April 26, and was attended not just by Christians, but by Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.
“That’s the happiest part—not only that Christians are here, [but] that all kind of religious people come over here to acknowledge [the attacks] and to pray to God,” Selvadurai said.
The mood at the beginning of the service was quiet and somber. After opening prayers, the congregation sang a hymn, followed by a scripture reading and reflections.
Gary Anandasangaree, MP for Scarborough-Rouge Park, extended condolences on behalf of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Government of Canada. He condemned the bombings as an act of hate comparable to the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017. Mitzie Hunter, MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood, expressed condolences on behalf of the province and community.
The Rev. Vincent Sahayanathan, pastor at Toronto Harvest Missionary Church, shared his experience hearing news of the attack, in which feelings of joy at celebrating his daughter’s birthday gave way to grief and heartbreak. Having done extensive missionary work in Sri Lanka, Sahayanatha had attended St. Sebastian Church and preached at Zion Church many times.
Lamenting children who had lost eyes, ears, arms and legs in the attack, he asked, “How are they going to survive the rest of their lives?… They have to go through this earth until their time comes to go see the Lord…. We need to pray for them for their healing.”
Bishop Kevin Robertson brought greetings on behalf of Andrew Asbil, bishop of the diocese of Toronto, and the diocesan College of Bishops.
Noting that the bombings took place on Easter, Robertson said that on this day, followers of Jesus “recall that death does not have the last word—that even in the midst of this great darkness and this great suffering, which will last for years and lifetimes for the families and friends of the victims last Sunday—that still, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have the victory, because Jesus has the victory…that even in the midst of this tragedy, God is able to bring forth life and new life.”
In his own meditation, Sikha pondered reactions in the face of such horrific acts of violence.
“What was our reaction?” he asked. “Anger. Grief. Helplessness. Unbelief. ‘How could this have happened?’… To many of my brothers and sisters who have lived [through] turmoil in Sri Lanka, to relive all that again today, I just want to leave God’s word in our hearts—that we go back differently than we came, that we replace anger with affection.”
“Anger makes us weak,” he added. “Anger makes us foolish. But affection makes us strong…. Our country needs that affection from us…not only for Sri Lankans, everyone, because the Lord has no favourites. All of us are equal before him. He loves us all.”
Sikha ended with a request that for at least one month, parishioners wake up every morning and pray for 30 seconds or more “for our brothers and sisters over there…and whenever you hear any part of the world that such calamities take place, start praying.” He invited those present to make donations to help the victims.
As parishioners filed out, a stack of envelopes containing donations grew tall with new gifts.
“Many people are donating money to send over there, and that is also a little bit of a relief, because we can do something for them,” Selvadurai said.
“Our presence is not there, [but] at least by money and by prayers, we can help them.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the title of Bishop Andrew Asbil, who is currently the bishop of the diocese of Toronto.