Terrorist Bomb St. Anthony’s Church in Sri Lanka

Inside the church after the bombing

On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, an Islamic Terrorist Group detonated eight bombs in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo killing 257 people and wounding over 500. One bomb was detonated inside the St Anthony Shrine, a 175-year-old Catholic Church and renown sanctuary haven and house of worship open to people of all faiths. Joe Farrell and his company Resolve Marine had a strong affiliation with the people of Sri Lanka after they had done an extensive harbor clearance in the north of the country at the end of the 26-year long Tamil Tiger war. 

Due to the global time difference, it wasn’t until several hours after the attack that Joe Farrell became aware of the explosion.  Joe and his wife Mary Beth were about to leave for Easter Services at St Anthony’s Church in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. On seeing and hearing the Fox News report, Joe immediately contacted his good friend in Sri Lanka, Admiral Piyal De Silva of the Sri Lankan Navy.  Admiral Piyal explained to Joe that his office was located near the bombing sites and that he was in his office coordinating the offshore arrest of a ship suspected of carrying drugs.  When his Naval office building shook from the explosions, he ran to a nearby hotel where one of the bombs went off and then ran to the also nearby, St. Anthony’s Shrine. The explosion occurred at 0845 when the Church had been fully packed with families there for the 0900 Easter Sunday Service. While he was on the phone with Joe, Admiral Piyal explained the horrific scene that he was standing in and sent the above pictures. 

When the Admiral along with his Navy team and other Sri Lankans finished removing the bodies of the dead children, they then removed those of the dead adults and other remains.  The attack at St. Anthony Church was carried out by one suicide bomber who had a bomb concealed in his backpack. A vehicle bomb was in the car park, which was detonated by the Sri Lankan Military’s EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) team. The death toll of people just practicing their faith at an Easter morning service was 56 adults and 44 children, 12 people were permanently disabled, 4 critically injured, and 106 injured. A total of 160 families were onsite and affected by the blast.

Joe asked Admiral Piyal to reach out to the Church’s Pastor, Father Jude Fernando, to determine the approximate cost to rebuild the Church. The Admiral said that he would but was fearful that Pastor Jude, who he was standing beside at the time, was about to have a nervous breakdown. Joe told the Admiral that we would contact him in two days about the funds needed rebuild the Church. When Joe called Admiral Piyal 48 hours later, the Admiral reported that they estimated that they could rebuild the church for approximately $115,000 USD. Joe and the Resolve team decided they would send $60,000 USD the following day. A few hours later Joe called Admiral Piyal and advised him that they could send $60,000 USD. Joe then asked if it was possible to set aside $10,000 of the $60,000 for the families who lost their main breadwinner; be it a father, mother, son, or daughter. 


Admiral Piyal, who is a Buddhist, was delighted at the news and said he would use the Sri Lankan Navy personnel to rebuild the Church. The Navy rebuilt the Church in 40 days. The Admiral informed Joe that not only was the Church totally rebuilt, but he also stated that it was more beautiful than it had been. Additionally, he said that there were now many more people coming to the Mass services than previously.

Terrorist Bomb St. Anthony’s Church In Sri Lanka (2)
Navy Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva

The article below was published in the Sri Lanka news including an article on the Sunday Observer shortly after Joe’s generous donation to St. Anthony’s Church.

SRI LANKA NEWS – Sunday Observer May 26, 2019: 

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva on Wednesday paid tribute to the men and women of the Sri Lanka Navy, who worked tirelessly in the reconstruction work of the St. Anthony’s Church, which was devastated in the Easter Day bomb attacks.

“I am very happy today that within a very short period we managed to repair the church and bring to an even better condition than it was before. The entire work was done by the men and women of the SLN, Sri Lankan Navy who worked as a team,” Vice Admiral De Silva, who was in attendance at the reopening of the Shrine, said.

The Navy Commander recalled that he had arrived at the Church soon after the deadly attack when bodies were still strewn on the floor. “I met the Father in charge of the Church, who was in tears. I told him we cannot bring the dead back to life but can help repair the Church, which is what the SLN has done in a short time period of 40 days,” he said.

The Commander said that the remaining work of expanding the parking area and the gallery of the Church will also be done by Navy personnel, and this work would be completed in three months.

Vice-Admiral De Silva also recollected the generosity of people who have come forward to help with contributions from Sri Lanka and overseas. Among them, he said, is the owner of the world-famous salvage company Resolve Marine Group.

 “The owner of Resolve Marine, Joseph Farrell, who is a friend of mine sent his condolences to those affected by the attacks via email to me, soon after the incident. When I informed him that the Sri Lanka Navy is carrying out the rebuilding work, he generously donated to the fund of the Church,” the Navy Commander said. (CK)


St. Anthony’s Rebuild 40-days after the blast
Since The Attack, Church Attendance Has Risen, Illustrating The Bombing Only Strengthen The Congregation’s Resilience.

The Connection between Mission Resolve (Joe Farrell) and Admiral Piyal De Silva

In 2011, Joe Farrell, Jr. and the Resolve Marine team met with Admiral Piyal De Silva at the end of the 26-year Tamil Tiger War in Sri Lanka. Resolve was awarded the contract to remove ten vessels sunk during the conflict. When Joe arrived in Northern Sri Lanka, the site of the final battles, he met a young Sri Lankan Navy Special Forces Commando Commander by the name of Piyal De Siva. In the ensuing months, they made a fast and enduring friendship. Commander Piyal provided Resolve with military security in addition to handling recovered unexploded ordinances and human remains during the wreck removal operations. 

2011 Wreck Removal Commencement Operations, KKS, Sri Lanka

During the recovery operations, Resolve had to be cognizant of the unexploded ordinances in and around the sunken wrecks. This was a challenge when some phases of the project required a crane to drop a 15-ton guillotine made of 4” thick armor strengthened steel to cut through the steel hulls creating lighter sections that were easier to lift.  These challenges along with the normal risks associated with wreck removal made for a complex project that deepened the trust and camaraderie between Joe and Admiral Piyal.  As a thank you for their protection and assistance during the project, Resolve had local contractors build two vacation cottages for the Army Officers on the beach and Naval barracks for 60-men on the dock. 

The RMG 500 and another Resolve crane in background as two waterspouts passed between the crane barges. The teams were not able to lower these in time of the weather threat. Resolve was once again Blessed because if a waterspout had hit a crane barge there would have been catastrophic consequences.
Resolve’s RMG 500, a 500-ton heavy lift derrick, in the process of lifting a 400-ton piece of a ship’s bow section.
Senior Salvage Master Frank Leckey led the team who coordinated and executed the challenging wreck removal operation safely, successfully, on budget and on schedule.
Resolve Commander alongside a Navy Offshore Gunboat.
Senior Salvage Master Andy Butts and Joe Farrell reviewing a wreck removal plan.
Recovering a Navy vessel sunk by a high-speed suicide boat, loaded with explosives, that detonated on impact.
Joe Farrell gave a speech at the end of the offshore and harbor clearance operation, thanking and congratulating everyone for their support of a safe and successful vessel clearance operation.
Pictured left to right, Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, Joe Farrell, and Commander Piyal De Silva. The Admiral Ravindra was in charge of the Naval Northern Command with Navy special ops.
Pictured right is Captain Farhat Imam of Resolve and Joe Farrell in front of the army Cottages.
Joe in front of beachfront Army beach cottages named Peace and Tranquility
Captain Farhat Lighting A Dedication Candle At The Navy Barracks Building Dedication. The Ceremony Was Officiated By Priests From Hindu, Tamil, Buddhist And Catholic Religions.
The Navy Barracks that Resolve had built to allow the Sailors to get off their stifling hot gun and patrol vessels for a time to time break. Resolve also had that the barracks insulated and air conditioning installed.
The classrooms that the students used prior to Resolve’s contracted construction project.

During the numerous months of harbor clearance operations, Joe working with Commander Piyal came across St Henry’s Catholic orphanage (locally known as St. Henry’s Hostel) in Llavalai, northern Sri Lanka. Working with Father Joseph Jesuthas and Commander Piyal, Resolve provided the funds for a new building with four classrooms. The Navy built a basketball court and Resolve funded a large 2nd story sleeping dormitory. The classroom building was named after Jenifer Riefler, a young Resolve field logistics coordinator who passed away from cancer. 

In Feb 2016, Joe visited Northern Sri Lanka for a quick hello but to his surprise Commander, Piyal met him at the airport for a motorcade to St Henry’s Hostel where the school student body was there to greet him. On the visit, Commander Piyal arranged for them to stay at the Navy’s famous Fort Hammenhiel in Jaffna harbor. They were brought by launch over to the 15th Century, island Fort by Commander Piyal. They were met at the dock by a 6-man Navy honor guard dressed in 16th Century Dutch Uniforms. They were to be the only guests staying at the Fort. Joe later recounted “I only wanted to say hello and see to how things were going and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the welcome that I received.”

Father Joseph Anthonippillal Jesuthas, Commander Piyal, and Joe Farrell pose in front of the Jenifer Reifler building after they had a proper building dedication and prayer service for Jenifer in February 2016.
Jenifer Riefler along with the building plaque that Father Jesuthas made in Jenifer’s memory.

On this same February 2016 visit, Joe asked two of Resolve’s Sri Lanka employees, Sumith and Waratunga to meet him at St Henry’s Hostel to talk to the kids about the importance of learning languages and other skill sets. Resolve hired these talented young men during its wreck removal project in 2011 and they excelled in their positions. They were former Sri Lankan Navy personnel recommended to Resolve by Commander Piyal.

On this visit, Father Jesuthas showed the Admiral and Joe around the Hostel finishing at the computer building. To their surprise, they toured a modern computer room equipped with thirty computers. Joe asked the Father when and how they were able to build the room. Father Jesuthas explained that after Resolve supported the classroom construction, more and more people offered support. They found that when like-minded people put their hearts, minds, and hands together it only takes one team or even an individual to start.

Students of St Henry’s Orphanage
Dwarak Naidu who ran Resolve’s India operations inspecting the building structure before building the new sleeping quarters. It was important to ensure the structure was built strong enough to handle earthquakes.
Sumith And Waratunga Talking With A Class Of Students
The completed sleeping quarters at St. Henry’s Hostel
The above two photos show the incredible change in the computer room from October 2012 to February 2016
The 6 Man Navy Honor Guard Dressed In 16th Century Dutch Uniforms Greeting Joe Upon His Arrival To Sri Lanka.

Donation of the Church Organ

In September 2019, a month after Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Northern Bahamas, Andy Massagee the Facility manager of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church and School in Ft. Lauderdale, FL reached out to Peter Robinson, Resolve’s commercial manager. Andy told Peter that Father Grady, the Pastor of St. Anthony’s Church in Ft Lauderdale, was receiving a newly donated organ with installation and that Father Grady wanted to find a fitting home for the original well-kept organ. Joe and his family attend mass at St. Anthony’s and he knew that he needed to find a fitting home the organ. 

Florida’s St Anthony’s Church And School In Fort Lauderdale, Fl

Andy delivered the organ to the Resolve Ft. Lauderdale warehouse along with the eight huge speakers that he meticulously and professionally secured with heavy shipping blankets. Joe figured that in the devastation of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, there must be a Church in need of rebuilding and an organ. Joe believed that it should go to a House of Worship and not necessarily just to a Catholic Church, so he put the word out through the devastated communities in the Bahamas, Resolve contacts, and the newly formed Mission Resolve Foundation. The destroyed Churches in the Bahamas were small and once rebuilt would not be appropriate for such a large organ. A few weeks passed, it suddenly dawned on Joe one morning that St. Anthony’s in Sri Lanka, the Church Resolve Marine assisted after the terrorist attack, was a large Church and could house the organ system. Ironic that both churches are named after St. Anthony.  Joe made a quick call to the Admiral Piyal asking him if they had organs in Sri Lanka to which, Joe recalled the Admiral saying, “Heck Joey, Sri Lanka probably invented organs”. The Admiral promptly had a discussion with Rev. Father Raj Fernando, the Pastor of St. Anthony in Sri Lanka, and there was prompt heartfelt acceptance and thank you’s. 

Peter Robinson and the organ while it was still installed in St. Anthony’s Fort Lauderdale

The organ, bench seat, and eight large speakers were crated in heat-treated, insect-free wood by a commercial packing company for the international ocean voyage. It should be noted that Kevin Izquierdo, Rich Valencio, Rajee and Matt Nadell of Resolve were also instrumental in getting to organ shipped to Sri Lanka.

Rich Valencio, Resolve Warehouse manager standing beside the 1,400 lbs. of organ and speaker crates. Rich played a key roll in this operation

It certainly rings true that it is a small world. Craig Walters, Resolve’s airplane pilot in Alaska is married to Sandra. Sandra grew up in Sri Lanka and she recently wrote the following about this very Church she and her family attended.

“Saint Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade Sri Lanka was a place of shelter for my soul when I was growing up there. I remember this deep connection to this church growing up and to this day I feel the same. This is a church that kept the doors always opened to the people and welcomed anybody of any beliefs or status.  There was a sense of compassion, love, and humility. I would often go to this church during struggles in my life or just when I wanted to offer my devotions.  Just walking in through the doors of St.  Anthony gave me this sense of peace and felt the presence of something grander than life.  Both my sisters and my mother were very deeply touched and guided by this church as well. Today through many experiences, I believe that whatever source connects you and opens the door to the divinity within oneself and takes down the barriers of the feeling of separation from oneself and from other beings, is a source of pure light. That’s how I feel about this church and how instrumental it was for me to feel the “oneness of all.”

I am deeply grateful to Joe Farrell for helping to rebuild this church.  Due to his and other’s generous contributions and efforts, St. Anthony’s church will continue to serve all people throughout their lives.”

Craig & Sandra
Resolve’s Pilatus Airplane In Alaska

On Dec. 26, 2019, the organ arrived in Sri Lanka and on Jan. 9, 2020 Admiral Piyal, who is a Buddhist, texted Joe a most welcome message. It stated that: “Rev. Father Jude of St. Anthony Church confirmed that the organ was placed at the most suitable and conspicuous place. St Anthony’s clergy and parishioners are planning to hold a memorial service commemorating the one-year anniversary for those lost in the attack and at the same time celebrate the church’s rebuilding with the inauguration of the organ. This service will be officiated by his Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, with the President of Sri Lanka, local officials, and media in attendance.  

A few things should be shared with you, the reader. Father Jesuthas at St Henry’s Hostel in Northern Sri Lanka told Joe that after Admiral Piyal and Resolve made their commitments back in 2011 and the facility construction began, many other locals who saw these actions also came forward to provide funding and facilities. This included building a computer lab among other things. The same thing happened with the Church rebuilding efforts in 2019. Additionally, it does not take massive amounts of money to accomplish what appears to be unsurmountable feats. 

It only takes a few likeminded people to accomplish feats that make major differences to people in need. At certain points when finances can be tight, yet the need to assist is there, your rewards are exponential. We can and should all be the leaders in doing good and watch how our actions get copied and recopied. These are the reasons to take the time to write stories like this.

In closing, just maybe when a “future would-be terrorist” sees what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday suicide attack, they will plainly see that not only was the Church immediately rebuilt to an improved condition but that the very thing that the terrorist wanted to achieve did not happen. His goal was to make people fearful of going to Church and to stop practicing their religion. Now there are more people attending services then had previously attended. Further, they will have a beautiful organ. 

Over the years it has been the men and women of the Resolve Marine Group worldwide companies who have been making significant impacts and doing so quietly in countries around the globe. Because we see the major impact that people of goodwill can do, we established the Mission Resolve Foundation, a US-based nonprofit 501C3 to allow others to also become engaged with us.  

Resolve Marine Group Ft. Lauderdale Offices
Bombing In Sri Lanka Mission