A shrine frequented by cricketing community

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A security official stands guard outside St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 23, 2019, two days after the church was hit in a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. - Sri Lanka on April 23 imposed a state of emergency hours after the government blamed a local Islamist group for a series of suicide bomb blasts that killed at least 290 people, including dozens of foreigners. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP)

There has been overwhelming support from the cricketing community across the globe from Sir Viv Richards to V.V.S. Laxman urging Sri Lankans to be strong following the barbaric terrorist attack that killed hundreds of innocent civilians last Sunday.

Most were celebrating Easter but there were victims from other faiths as well and overall these attacks will take the country backward, providing a killer blow to tourism, economy and the game of cricket as well.

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Pakistan has been at the receiving end for the last ten years due to security lapses, unable to stage cricket in their own shores. Strangely, it was to Sri Lanka that Pakistan Cricket Board, turned to, to become the neutral venue to host Pakistan’s cricket encounters in 2010. 

In fact, P. Sara Oval successfully hosted the first ever neutral Test match but SLC didn’t wish to host Pakistan permanently due to a variety of logistical reasons and as a result, United Arab Emirates has been hosting Pakistan’s international games since 2010.

There were also discussions last year between SLC and Board of Control for Cricket in India to host some of the IPL games in Colombo, due to the General Elections in India.

Having been recognized as a safe destination, it will be a crying shame if teams refuse to tour the island due to security issues moving forward. Sri Lanka has suffered enough due to terrorist troubles with no international cricket being played on our shores for more than five years. From April 1987 to August 1992, no international team travelled our shores and a whole generation suffered due to lack of exposure and opportunities. Let’s hope and pray it’s not back to square once again.

The fact that the national cricket team was forced to cancel two high-intensity training sessions – one at Habarana and the other at Dambulla – doesn’t augur well, moving forward. Firstly, our own cricketers and support staff should feel comfortable and safe before we tell the world that the country is safe for cricket.

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While no cricketers were directly affected by the attacks, several of their loved ones were. Young batsman Hasitha Boyagoda was at Shangri-La in Colombo when the blasts happened. There has been little communication from the Boyagodas, but it is believed that his parents, sister, and brother were admitted to a private hospital in Colombo where they received treatment for several days. Hasitha Boyagoda was unhurt, we learn.

All-rounder Dasun Shanaka’s family members were badly hurt as they attended Easter Sunday service at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. So was the father-in-law of former cricketer Ian Daniel, who attended the service at St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade. They have all been treated for injuries.

St. Anthony is Sri Lanka’s favorite saint and the Shrine dedicated to him in Kochchikade is Sri Lanka’s holiest Shrine along with the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the Mannar district.

The Shrine in the heart of the city is dedicated to a 13th-century Catholic monk from Padua, Italy and is frequented by Sri Lankan cricketers. 

On a Tuesday evening, if you spend a couple of hours at St. Anthony’s you will come across some very prominent individuals across all walks of life visiting the Shrine. Politicians, lawyers, war veterans, musicians, businessmen, and cricketers can be seen attending services at St.  Anthony’s. This is not just Catholics. There are people of other faiths as well.

Sanath Jayasuriya is one such. Currently serving a two-year ban by the ICC for not cooperating with corruption investigations, Jayasuriya visits St. Anthony’s every Tuesday. So do Chaminda Vaas and Ajantha Mendis while Angelo Mathews is a frequent visitor too.

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Mendis has a special affection for St. Anthony’s. When he ran riot in the Asia Cup final in 2008 with India’s famed batting line up unable to unravel his mystery, Sri Lanka went onto record a famous win. Mendis finished with figures of 6 for 13. Incidentally, the feast of St. Anthony falls on June 13th. That’s 6/13 as well.

Tuesday is the day dedicated to St. Anthony by the Catholic Church. Known as the miracle saint, St. Anthony is known for his concern for the poor and the sick. A tiny piece of St. Anthony’s tongue is enshrined in a special reliquary in one of the statues at the entrance of the church.  The blast would most likely have damaged this statue.

The church is over 200 years old and in 2013 Sri Lanka Navy gifted a plot of land belonging to them to the Church to put up a soup kitchen. Due to this facility, the poor in Colombo never go hungry as there’s always food here for them to consume.

The church has some powerful attraction. When Pope John Paul II visited Sri Lanka in 1995, he made an unscheduled visit at the Church on his way to the Galle Face Green giving his security detail a nightmare. The Polish pontiff later said that he felt a sudden urge to visit ‘this magnanimous church’ as his motorcade was passing by.  Most people who travel on the 107 bus feel the same as the driver is taking a turn towards Jampettah Street.

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