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Welby addresses mourners after Pakistan murders

20 March 2015


Police fire tear gas at Christian protesters in Lahore on Monday

Police fire tear gas at Christian protesters in Lahore on Monday

THE killing of at least 16 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", Pope Francis has said.

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

Hours after the attacks on Sunday, 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 Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the funeral of some of the victims, at Christ Church, on Tuesday, via a mobile phone. The Bishop of Lahore, the Rt Revd Irfan Jamil, translated the Archbishop's prayers for the mourners.

Bishop Jamil has pleaded for calm, after protests turned violent this week. The Express Tribune reported on Monday that "hundreds of protesters smashed property and vehicles, and clashed with riot police in different neighbourhoods of the city." Nearly 5000 police were deployed.

Two people suspected of involvement in the attack were lynched by what the BBC described as an "angry mob"; relatives of the men have claimed that they were innocent bystanders. Two protesters were killed after being run over by a driver who accelerated when her car was pelted with stones. In other cities, peaceful demonstrations, rallies, and vigils took place.

"Christians are being blamed, incorrectly, during a relatively peaceful process, and we are concerned that the violence will escalate, as local mosques are not being prevented from preaching hatred," the chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), Wilson Chowdhry, said on Monday. The BPCA reports that two volunteer security officers - one of them a relation of Mr Chowdhry's - were killed in the explosions on Sunday.

In partnership with the South Asian Forum of the Evangelical Alliance, the BPCA is demanding "swift action" from the Pakistani government. They are calling on the British government - the second-largest foreign-aid contributor to Pakistan - to ensure that the money is used "to improve the lives of all", with attention paid to "ensuring the protection of minority groups".

The Interior Minister of Pakistan, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said that the bombings were "heart-piercing. We stand by the Christian community, but will take strict action against all those who lynched two men and vandalised public property."

The provincial Punjab government has agreed to set up an investigation into the attacks.

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," a spokesman for the Taliban faction, Ahsanullah Ahsan, said in a statement emailed to reporters.

The Assistant Curate of St Anselm's, Belmont, in London, the Revd Rana Youab Khan, spoke to the Vicar of Christ Church, the Revd Irshad Ashknaz - 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 Christian colony of more than 50,000 people, 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, said: "We shall overcome through our love and kindness upon those who believe in evil and inhuman acts."

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

Nasir Saeed, the director of CLAAS-UK, which works with persecuted Christians in Pakistan, said: "This attack is a reflection of the government's failure; and unfortunately, I fear, this is not going to be the 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 (News, 27 September 2013).

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

The diocese of Manchester, which has had a link with the diocese of Lahore for 25 years, is holding days of prayer and fasting every Wednesday over the next three weeks.

The Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Revd Chris Edmondson, who visited Lahore last year, spoke on Tuesday of his "shock, sadness, and grief", and of the importance of solidarity: "Time after time, people said, 'Thank you for not forgetting about us.'" In addition to prayers and visits, the diocese has raised money for victims of the 2013 bombing.

"The persecution and marginalisation of Christians in Pakistan does not get the attention from the world's media that it deserves," Bishop Edmondson said.

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

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