Katuwapitiya is a part of the Negombo urban area about 3 miles from the sea as the crow flies. It may be a part of the Katana Police Division but it is definitely part of the Negombo urban area. It is at the church of St Sebastian at Katuwapitiya that the 2nd terror blast (if we count Kochchikade as the first) took place.
When I learned that the St Sebastian’s church had been targeted together with St Anthony’s Kochchikade, which was an obvious choice for a terror attack, I immediately wondered “Why?” since it is one of the many Catholic churches in our country and there was nothing special about it. I remembered living in the Katuwapitiya parish as a child, in primary school in Maris Stella College, and that was more than “three score years and ten” ago.” One of its special merits was, when at that time, in the 1940s Negombo town wells only produced salty water and people had to transport drinking water from a mile away in the interior, St Sebastian’s Katuwapitiya had a deep, big well which provided water for both drinking and bathing and the church feast attracted many from various parts of the country because St Sebastian, is reputed to be a healer from heaven though in real life, in the Roman empire, he was a Roman soldier. He is usually depicted as tied to a post, bare bodied with arrows stuck in his body, in the scene of his martyrdom or as a Roman soldier / saint. Because of the varied qualities attributed to him he is a very popular saint, with many churches named after him. People sometimes think that by bathing in the church well and water works, which are provided for the laity like the Lourdes mountain stream, an illness can be healed. In any case it is refreshing. So you can go to the church, pray, have a bath and even eat your picnic meal and walk back home or travel in your bara karate (bull cart) which had a wooden body and a thatched roof.
Katuwapitiya is a happy memory for me. It was truly rural and on the margin of the urban. My mother’s sister and brother married from there though their family was from Kalutara, Catholics with the clan name Bohdiya Badhu Ge. We are very much full of memories of our long stay there, in the 1940s first half decade.
However this year 2019 (January?) I see Katuwapititya church on TV and it is the 150th Jubilee and what a wonderful transformation it showed with the Cardinal celebrating the festive Mass. The building was completely transformed and the crowd which was very rural (when we lived there) was now very mod and dressed city wise and the orchestra of piano, violin etc and the beautifully dressed choristers was a super entity. It was not the old harmonium and the singing in Sinhala using the Marcelline Jayakody hymns. It was mod.
But the most memorable feature was the sermon given by the celebrant Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit who has an admirable diction and tone and content in his speaking in a couple of languages. Speaking in Sinhala he spoke of the glories of the Catholic Christian heritage in our country and went on to talk on the spread of drug usage in the population and the necessity of stopping it, of the urgent need for the Catholic church in this country to intervene and contain and stop the terrible evil that was fast spreading. It was not just a civil misdemeanor but a moral evil “eating deeper and deeper into the vital energies of the people.” (as the Donoughmore Commission described the evil of communalism in the Sri Lankan polity in the 1930s). A Catholic who persisted in drug abuse could be excommunicated for it.
This speech had a memorable impact not only on those who were physically present at the church site but also on those like me who saw it on TV. And the civil authorities too reacted in the same spirit and we were all enthused by the news of arrests, seizures of hoards of drugs worth huge amounts and finally the adventure of reaching out to capture the drug lords who lived abroad. Capital punishment for drugs was proposed and vacancies for executioners were publicized like in the French Revolution days in 1789.
So was that why Katuwapitiya was chosen for attack? Because that was where the Christian war against drugs was broached and publicized island wide?