Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (center) looks on as military personnel conduct parade during Sri Lanka’s 72nd Independence Day celebrations in Colombo on Tuesday. The event brought together 2,500 guests including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, members of parliament and diplomats as well as Russia’s Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces General Oleg Salyukov. Photo: AFP

Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic Church said Sunday it had forgiven the suicide bombers behind the attacks that killed at least 279 people in Easter of 2019.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told an Easter mass – broadcast from a TV studio because of the coronavirus pandemic – that “we offered love to the enemies who tried to destroy us.”

“We forgave them,” he said, adding that instead of retaliating, the nation’s Catholic minority had contemplated Jesus’ message of hope, and reduced tensions.

The April 21 Easter Sunday bombers targeted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing at least 279 people and wounding 593.

Ranjith 2019 called for the government at-the-time to step down over its alleged failure to investigate an “international conspiracy” behind the attacks.

That government, of president Maithripala Sirisena, lost November’s elections, with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s younger brother Gotabaya taking the reins.

Sirisena initially blamed Islamic extremists for the bombings, but later accused international drug dealers of being behind the attacks – supposedly to destabilize his anti-narcotics drive.

The country’s then-police chief and secretary to the ministry of defense have been charged with murder for allegedly not acting on intelligence about the attacks.

Police have arrested 135 people in connection with the bombings, blamed on the National Thowheeth Jama’ath extremist group.

They have yet to be charged.

This year’s Easter celebrations have been muted amid a nationwide indefinite curfew imposed to contain COVID-19.

Some 199 people have been infected, with seven deaths, the government said.