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Sri Lankan Catholics pray, weep outside church in guarded vigil

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Catholics pray and weep outside devastated St Anthony's Shrine

COLOMBO: Church bells tolled mournfully at Colombo's devastated St Anthony's Shrine yesterday, as scores of Christians wept but defiantly prayed and lit candles for the victims of the horrific Easter bombings.

The bells rang out at 8.45am, the moment a suicide bomber detonated his device inside the 18th-century church on Easter Sunday, one of six attacks on churches and luxury hotels that left 253 dead.

The bomber destroyed part of the shrine's roof and scarred its walls with shrapnel, damaging the clock tower - its hands still stuck at 8.45am.

The island's Roman Catholic leadership has suspended all public services, fearing new attacks.

But yesterday morning, as Sri Lanka's Christians sought to come to terms with the tragedy, scores of Catholics held a heavily guarded vigil outside the Colombo church.

As they prayed and wept, some fingered rosary beads, while others sang hymns and lit candles, placing them inside metal boxes as a makeshift memorial to the victims.

Mr Keuslaus Stanislaus said he had travelled to St Anthony's because he "wanted to participate in a mass in some way".

"We wanted to participate because we haven't been able to worship all week," the 30-year-old told AFP.

For those living near the church, the bombing felt like a personal onslaught.

"I come to this church every Sunday. It feels like my second home. It is like people blasted my own home," said 19-year-old Dharshika Fernando, struggling to hold back tears.

"We don't know when the church will open again but we want it back soon."

About an hour after the vigil began, worshippers fell silent as the parish priest walked out to the entrance of the church and held up a statue of St Anthony.

The crowd raised their hands in prayer before resuming their solemn hymns.

The authorities have blamed the attacks on a local Islamist group affiliated to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has claimed responsibility. - AFP