Hundreds of Sri Lankan-Canadians in Scarborough were ready to celebrate Easter at a church service on Sunday, but given news of deadly bombings in their home country, they prayed for victims and their families instead.
"We were all prepared to rejoice today," Shanthini Zipporah Michael, secretary of the Toronto Harvest Missionary Church, said during the service. Most members of the Pentecostal church are of Sri Lankan origin.
"It's very sad that on Easter day this happened. It's a very sudden shock this news is for us. But we, as Christians, are praying for them, to comfort them and to strengthen them. Somehow, if we can help them, we are going to do that."
Michael, who emigrated from Sri Lanka to Canada in 1995, said the news is shocking because the country seemed to be relatively stable. A civil war there ended a decade ago. She said she received calls from Sri Lanka about the news overnight while she was sleeping.
She said the church, located on Bellamy Road North near Progress Avenue, will continue to pray for victims and will raise funds for families of those killed. It does charity work in Sri Lanka and has a membership of about 400 people.
13 arrested after deadly bomb blasts
Eight bomb blasts hit churches and luxury hotels in the South Asian island country on Sunday. Hundreds of people have been injured. Police have arrested 13 suspects but no group has claimed responsibility. The attacks occurred nearly simultaneously.
The federal government warned Canadians in Sri Lanka to limit their movements and obey local authorities, saying the situation in the country remains "volatile" and more attacks are possible. It added that the High Commission of Canada to Sri Lanka in the capital Colombo would be closed on Monday due to the security situation.
Global Affairs Canada said in an email Sunday afternoon that there are no reports of any Canadian citizens being affected by the blasts, whose targets included hotels and a church frequented by tourists.
Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said the bodies of at least 27 foreigners were recovered, and the dead included people from Britain, the U.S., India, Portugal and Turkey. China's Communist Party newspaper said two Chinese nationals were killed.
PM Trudeau says Canada condemns attacks
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed sorrow and shock at the attacks, while condemning the targeting of worshippers on Easter Sunday.
"Canada strongly condemns these heinous attacks on hotels and Christians at prayer in churches. Places of worship are sacred, where all should feel safe and secure. No one should be targeted because of their faith," the prime minister said in a statement.
"For millions of people around the world, Easter is a time to reflect on Jesus' message of compassion and kindness — a time to come together with friends and family. We cannot let attacks like these weaken the hope we share."
Sri Lanka's defence minister described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists and police said 13 suspects had been arrested, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Most of the blasts were believed to have been suicide attacks.
Angeline Sahayanathan, the pastor's second daughter, told CBC Toronto that she heard about the bombings at about 1:30 a.m. on Sunday. She said her family celebrated her sister's birthday at midnight.
Then her parents received phone calls from family members in Sri Lanka before the government blocked most social media services.
"It was really devastating," she said. "Our parents said: 'We need to talk to you about this.' Immediately, our stomach had dropped."
Sahayanathan said Easter is all about resurrection, but the service was more sombre than joyful on Sunday morning because of the number of deaths.
"I do believe in everyone's hearts we are not as joyful to sing and to shout because we are thinking about the lives that have been lost," she said. "But we are pressing forward with hope and faith."