Bhante Pemaratana had trouble processing the devastating news that came on Easter Sunday.
The native of Sri Lanka and abbot at the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center in Harrison was heartbroken about the bombing massacres that killed at least 290 and left hundreds more injured.
“I’m a Buddhist monk — but, in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, not only Catholics and Christians, but all people, come together in a mood of celebration,” Pemaratana said. “So I can only imagine, on such a beautiful day, what kind of emotional shock came from these bombings.
“What is particularly sad for me is that Sri Lanka had a three-decades-long war that ended 10 years ago and then people started living in peace and the economy is coming up and tourism is on the rise. And then this thing happens.”
Pemaratana, who recently became a U.S. citizen, decided there was only one thing to do. He reached out to other faith leaders in Pittsburgh. He emailed the Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive minister of Christian Associates. And now, thanks to the planning of Barlow and others, an interfaith vigil is set to take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Heinz Memorial Chapel in Oakland to commemorate the victims in Sri Lanka.
“I had heard about the bombing in Sri Lanka when I woke up on Easter morning, and it’s unimaginably awful,” Barlow said. “It was around 10 o’clock on Easter evening when I received this email (from Pemaratana) that I realized that this was an opportunity not only to stand in solidarity with Sri Lankan Christians but also to underline interfaith relationships here in our community.”
Representatives of several faiths, including Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and others, will participate in Wednesday’s vigil.
Joshua Sayles, director of the Community Relations Council for the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, said having different faiths coming together symbolizes something important in the community.
“You don’t judge a community by the bad things that happen there; you judge a community by how it responds to those bad things,” Sayles said. “While obviously the bombings did not take place in Pittsburgh, the least we can do as a faith community is band together and show haters and extremists that that type of hateful ideology is not welcome in our city.”
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s faith leaders, including Pittsburgh Roman Catholic Bishop David Zubik, offered condolences for victims of the attack.
“My heart, the hearts of all Christians, and all compassionate people are grieving over the terrorist attack on Catholics and others this Easter in Sri Lanka,” Zubik said. “As we pray for the dead and wounded, and for peace in that wounded land, I ask everyone to seek ways to bring help and hope to victims of religious persecution worldwide.”
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s vigil, Pemaratana said he hopes religious leaders from so many different faiths can bring a feeling of hope to those who are hurting.
“I believe the majority of people believe in goodness, believe in compassion, believe in kindness,” Pemaratana said. “It’s time for these voices to come forward.”