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Bombing kills 14 outside Lahore churches

16 March 2015


Under attack: Pakistani Christian women mourning in the wake of the attacks on Sunday 

Under attack: Pakistani Christian women mourning in the wake of the attacks on Sunday 

THE killing of 14 people in suicide-bombings outside two churches in Pakistan on Sunday is part of a campaign of persecution against Christians that "the world seeks to hide", the Pope has said.

The attacks took place outside St John's Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Christ Church, in Youhanabad, a Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, where morning services were under way. More than 70 people were injured.

Hours after the news broke, the Pope, speaking to an audience in St Peter's Square, said: "Our brothers' and sisters' blood is shed only because they are Christians. I implore God that this persecution against Christians - that the world seeks to hide - comes to an end and that there is peace."

The Vicar of Christ Church, the Revd Irshad Ashknaz, spoke to the Revd Rana Youab Khan, Assistant Curate of St Anselm's, Belmont, a friend and former colleague in Lahore, on Sunday.

"He was in tears," Mr Khan said on Monday. "He was quite depressed and desperate because of the situation. He said: 'We are helpless  as Christians in Pakistan.' He is really feeling that they are insecure."

Youhanabad was "a big Christian colony" of more than 50,000, surrounded by Muslim villages, Mr Khan said. The Government needed to be "very serious and careful" to avoid a disintegration in Christian-Muslim relations in an area that had been regarded as relatively safe.

The Primate of the Church of Pakistan, the Most Revd Samuel Azariah, described the attacks as a "cowardly and inhuman act".

He vowed: "We shall overcome through our love and kindness upon those who believe in evil and inhuman acts."

The Bishop of Lahore, the Rt Revd Irfan Jamil, said that a joint funeral service was being planned with the Roman Catholic church for Tuesday.

The RC Archbishop of Karachi, the Most Revd Joseph Coutts, accused the Prime Minister of Pakistan of failing to implement an order from the Supreme Court to provide security in all places of worship.

"This new act of terrorism has cruelly shown how defenceless we are due to this neglect," he said, in a message to Aid to the Church in Need. "Once again, the state has not been able to provide safety to its citizens. Millions of citizens continue to live in a state of constant tension and fear, not knowing what to expect next."

He called on people to voice their protests in "a peaceful manner".

Protests have taken place  in Lahore, and other cities. Demonstrators have blocked roads burned tyres, smashed shops, and attacked vehicles, Reuters reported. The BBC reported on Monday that an "angry mob" had lynched two people suspected of involvement in the attack.

A Taliban splinter group - Jamatul Ahrar -  has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

"We promise that until an Islamic system is put into place in Pakistan such attacks will continue," Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Taliban faction, said in a statement emailed to reporters.

A policeman and security guard were killed in the attacks, reported the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which works with persecuted Christians in Pakistan.

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, said that the attacks were part of "sustained attempts to force Christians out of Pakistan".

He said: "Although the incident has been condemned by Pakistan's Prime Minister, President, and the majority of politicians, and compensation has been announced for the dead and injured, this is not enough.

"Christians are constantly under attack, especially with their churches and colonies being attacked under the cover of blasphemy accusations, and sometimes by Taliban and extremists.

"This attack is a reflection of the government's failure, and unfortunately, I fear, this is not going to be last attack against Christians. The international community must pay attention to the ongoing persecution of Christians in Pakistan."

In September 2013, 85 people were killed in a suicide-bombing at All Saints', Peshawar, one of the worst attacks ever on Christians in Pakistan (News, 27 September, 2013).

Mr Khan said that, after two years, no report on what had occurred had been produced: "If the government is sincere about the minorities, especially Christians, they need to prove that everything will come out in black and white."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide said on Sunday that the Government had yet to fulfil its promise to bring justice, including compensation, to the victims in Peshawar.

"Influential leaders, from grass-roots religious clerics to MPs and federal ministers, have been known openly to incite violence against non-Muslim minorities or minority Muslim sects," its statement said. "This situation is exacerbated by a culture of impunity and the unchecked influence of extremist groups."

The National Commission for Justice and Peace, formed in 1985 by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, is demanding that "provincial and federal government take serious and effective measure to protect the minority community of Pakistan".

Earler this month, a round-table meeting on religious freedom in Pakistan was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury's director for reconciliation, David Porter, attended by 60 clergy of Pakistani origin.

An online prayer wall where prayers for Pakistan can be posted is available here: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/community/prayer-wall.aspx


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