NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Nearly a week later, even after the cleaners have come through, the blood can still be seen clearly. The statues of Jesus and the saints are still speckled with fragments of shrapnel. The smell of death is everywhere, though the bodies are long gone.
Yet somehow, there’s a beauty to St. Sebastian’s, a neighborhood church in a Catholic enclave north of Sri Lanka’s capital, where a man calmly walked in during Easter services with a heavy backpack and blew himself up.
You can see the beauty in the broken stained-glass windows. It’s there as the sun shines through the roof’s gaping holes. It’s there in the little statues that refused to fall over, and despite the swarms of police and soldiers who seem to be everywhere now in the streets of the seaside town of Negombo.
For more than 50 years, St. Sebastian’s had been the scene of weddings and baptisms, of Christmas celebrations and countless Masses.
It’s still not clear exactly how many died Sunday at the Negombo church, but perhaps nearly half of the roughly 250 people killed in the Easter bombings that targeted churches and high-end hotels. Authorities say a once-obscure militant Muslim group carried out the attacks.
In a largely Buddhist country, Negombo is mostly Catholic town with dozens of churches. For days, it has been in mourning.
St. Sebastian’s walls are now blackened near where the bomber stood when he killed himself, spraying shrapnel in every direction. From inside, you see destruction wherever you look.
But from outside the church, if you ignore the police tape and if you’re standing far enough away, you might think nothing had happened there at all.
You might think St. Sebastian’s is a place known only for weddings and baptisms, for Christmas celebrations and countless Masses.