When a burning cathedral counts more than life itself: Where are our billions for Sri Lanka?


As a rooftop burned in Paris, footage was broadcast all over the world.

The fire engulfed bricks and timber, claiming the spire that had stood at the centre of the 4th arrondissement of Paris for centuries.

As people grieved, and billionaires pledged money we didn’t know they had, it felt for a moment like we were in the midst of a human tragedy, rather than an architectural one.

With nuts and bolts and wood and stone, the ceiling of Notre Dame will be rebuilt.

Such hope does not exist in Sri Lanka.

On Easter Sunday, six coordinated terror attacks were orchestrated in the commercial capital of Colombo.

Three Christian churches and three luxury hotels were targeted by suicide bombers, who blew the buildings to shreds.

But in Colombo, it was more than bricks and timber.

The death toll has risen to 359, and more than 500 are seriously injured.

Anders Holch Povlsen, Denmark’s richest man, and his wife Anne Storm Pedersen lost three of their four children.

Sri Lankan TV chef Shantha Mayadunne and her daughter Nisanga were killed in the blast in the Shangri-La hotel, where they had taken a photo together moments earlier.

An entire family, including a seven-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy were murdered at St Anthony’s Shrine. They’d heard news of explosions and were looking for relatives when the bomb went off.

And in the 24 hours after the incident the world went, relatively speaking, quiet.

Google trends shows that the terms ‘Notre Dame fire’ were searched seven times more often than the terms ‘Sri Lanka’ in the hours after the events.

No billionaires have emerged, pledging to donate millions to rebuilding Sri Lanka. There has been no viral hashtag, or social media outcry in the same way there was when we nearly lost a cathedral.


“Notre Dame felt closer,” some try to reason, even though it is geographically further away.

“I’d been to Notre Dame,” others argue. But had they been to a Christchurch mosque? Or the Twin Towers in New York? Or Manchester in the UK? Must we have been somewhere to feel a closeness to it?

Perhaps the Sri Lankan victims and mourners did not ‘look’ like the majority of Australians – making it seem like it didn’t have all that much to do with ‘us’.

On this week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud, we talk about the Sri Lankan government’s decision to shut down Facebook in the wake of the terror attacks. Post continues. 

Or maybe it was the timing.

We were in an Easter break bubble, further from our phones and work computers than usual. It was a time we wanted to be celebrating, and when we saw the headline ‘Terror attack in Sri Lanka, death toll rising’, we decided not to click.

We were fatigued, maybe.

It was only five weeks ago that a gunman murdered 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday afternoon prayer.

That was an attack on Muslims. Sri Lanka was an attack on Christians. There is no coherent narrative and there are no goodies and baddies.

It is time, perhaps, to ask ourselves where our priorities lie.

There was no one inside the Notre Dame cathedral, old and beautiful as it was.

But the six buildings bombed on Easter Sunday were full.

And surely that’s worth more.