In the wake of the Easter Sunday terror attacks that killed at least 253 people in Sri Lanka on April 21, churches in Mumbai are stepping up their security arrangements.
In a notice issued on the website of the Archdiocese of Bombay – the Catholic term for the church district – worshippers have been requested to arrive in church early for prayer services and to refrain from carrying packages. Announcements about these security precautions were made in churches across the city on May 11.
According to a spokesperson for the Archdiocese, these precautions are being put in place at the request of the Mumbai police, after police officials had a series of meetings with leaders of various Christian denominations in the past week.
“After the Sri Lanka attacks, the police believe churches and temples could be soft targets for terrorist groups, and want to ensure that specific security measures are put in place,” said Father Nigel Barrett, the spokesperson for the Catholic church in Mumbai. “These measures are not meant to create a scare in the community, but the police believes that the Sri Lanka attacks may not be an isolated incident.”
On the morning of April 21, Sri Lanka witnessed six suicide bombings targeting three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. Later that day, two more bombings targeted a housing complex in Dematagoda and a guest house in Dehiwala – both in Colombo.
Since the bombings took place during prayer services on Easter, it appeared to be a targeted attack on Sri Lanka’s Christian minority. Two days after the attacks, the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the bombings.
According to Barrett, Mumbai police commissioner Subodh Kumar Jaiswal met with Archbishop Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the head of the Catholic church in Mumbai, on May 4 to discuss the need for improved security at churches. In the week since then, police officials have held several follow-up meetings with various leaders of the Christian community.
“Senior police officials have met us and have recommended not allowing rickshaws and other vehicles to come right up to church gates, and not to keep too many church gates open,” said Father Frazer Mascarenhas, the parish priest of St Peter’s Church in the western suburb of Bandra.
Churches are normally open to everyone for most of the day, even when prayer services are not going on. However, the police has now recommended leaving just one church door open during hours when there are no services, so that church authorities are better able to monitor those entering and exiting the church. Worshippers will also now be asked to park their vehicles further away from the churches and be prepared for bag checks as they enter the premises.
“It would be advisable to come a little early for Mass and other services, just in case there is a delay because of checks at the entry point,” said the notice put up on the official Archdiocese website. “In the present context, it is necessary to strengthen security measures at all Churches in the Archdiocese, so that our people can pray peacefully, and our scheduled Masses and prayer services can continue undisturbed.”