Loyola’s Sri Lankan Student Association (SLSA) organized a vigil in response to the bombings in churches and hotels which killed over 350 people and injured around 500 in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Around 40 people gathered in the Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, according to SLSA President Thilini Fernando.
The vigil — which was co-sponsored by GlobeMed, a grassroots organization on campus focused on improving the health of people living in poverty — aimed to honor the different faiths practiced in Sri Lanka, specifically Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Fr. Thomas Chillikulam, Loyola’s Catholic chaplain, Omer Mozaffar, Loyola’s Muslim chaplain, and three Loyola students of different faiths said prayers.
“There are four different main religions of Sri Lanka and we’re really having this prayer service to celebrate the unity of the country,” Fernando, an 18-year-old first-year majoring in global and international studies, said.
Kajal Patel, a 21-year-old junior, offered a Hindu prayer and Rebecca Ramenaden, SLSA’s Vice President, said a Catholic prayer.
SLSA treasurer Tenzing Sherpa, who shared Buddhist prayers at the event, said she clearly remembered when she first heard of the attacks.
“It was maybe 12:03 in the morning, but I was up at the time in my dorm and I was painting,” Sherpa, a 19-year-old freshman majoring in neuroscience, said. “And I got the notification and the first thing that comes up is Sri Lanka and I was like ‘Oh my gosh.’”
Fernando and Ramenaden, an 18-year-old first-year majoring in neuroscience, said they both have extended family who live in Sri Lanka so they were worried when they first heard about the bombings.
“I went downstairs and my whole family was just sitting in our living room and they were watching the news and my mom was sobbing,” Fernando said. “Because I’m also Catholic and I have family who lives there [in Sri Lanka] … Those are our churches and we’ve been to those churches and we’ve been to those hotels … There was no real word to describe what you were watching.”
Amali Fernando, a 21-year-old senior and co-president of GlobeMed, said the tragedy has especially impacted her as a Sri Lankan Catholic so she reached out to SLSA’s president to organize a community event on campus.
“I got in touch with Thilini on Monday morning,” Fernando said. “I messaged her and I said ‘is your family okay’ and she said yes and I said ‘praise God.’ And then I said, ‘what are we doing [to honor the victims]?’”
Since the Sunday attacks, SLSA’s president said the group has received support from organizations on campus such as GlobeMed, LUC Dance Marathon and the Muslim Students’ Association.
“A lot of people are just kind of shaken up that this was just an Easter Sunday, everyone here was on holiday, everyone there was on holiday,” SLSA’s president said. “And they were just trying to go to their service and practice their faith. A lot of attacks that have happened in other parts of the world too have been in places of worship, so I think that’s just a little scary for some people.”
Anisha Kapoor, a 19-year-old first-year, attended the event and told The Phoenix the tragedy is “devastating.”
“In times like this are when we need to stand with each other and not against each other,” Kapoor, an environmental engineering major, said. “No matter what religion or no matter what faith you believe in … as long as we’re in solidarity and we strive to live with that notion then it makes things just a little bit better.”
Despite the tragedy, SLSA’s president and vice president spoke of the love they have for Sri Lanka and how they hope the bombings don’t turn people away from the country.
“I feel like people don’t know about Sri Lanka and I think that people are going to be scared now, but you shouldn’t be afraid …” Fernando said. “It’s a beautiful country and there’s so many things to do and the people are so nice.”