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
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
"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
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
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