Who are Sri Lanka’s Christians?

Religion News Service | 4/22/2019 | Staff
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(The Conversation) — At least 200 people have been killed in several coordinated bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter.

Several Christian communities spread across the island nation were targeted in the attack: Suicide bombers detonated one set of bombs at churches in the cities of Colombo and Negombo on the western coast, home to many Sinhalese-speaking Catholics. Another was detonated in a Protestant church 200 miles away—in Batticaloa, a city in the Tamil-majority eastern side of the island.

Catholic - Studies - Sri - Lanka - Fall

As a Catholic religious studies researcher and professor, I lived in Sri Lanka in the fall of 2013 and did research on Catholicism in both the southwest and northern parts of the country. Approximately 7 percent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people are Christian. The majority of them are Roman Catholic.

Sri Lanka’s Christians have a long history that reflects the dynamics of colonialism as well as present-day ethnic and religious tensions.

Colonialism - Door - Roman - Catholicism - Island

It was Portuguese colonialism that opened the door for Roman Catholicism into the island nation.

In 1505, the Portuguese came to Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was then called, in a trade agreement with King Vira Parakramabahu VII and later intervened in succession struggles in local kingdoms. Among those converted included Don Juan Dharmapala, the king of Kotte, a small kingdom near present-day Colombo on Sri Lanka’s southwestern coast.

Dutch - Dutch - East - India - Company

Later, when the Dutch and the Dutch East India Company displaced the Portuguese, Roman Catholicism was revived through the efforts of St. Joseph Vaz.

Vaz was a priest from Goa, Portugal’s colony in India, and arrived in Sri Lanka in 1687. Popular folklore credits Vaz with a number of miracles, such as bringing rain during a drought and taming a rogue elephant. Pope Francis made Joseph Vaz a saint in 2015.

Sri - Lanka - Independence - Great - Britain

By 1948, when Sri Lanka gained independence from Great Britain, Catholics had established a...
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