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Religious leaders must ‘up their game’, says Welby

08 April 2016


Providing light: Christians in Pakistan hold candles during a vigil on Monday for victims of the suicide- bombing on Easter Day in Lahore

Providing light: Christians in Pakistan hold candles during a vigil on Monday for victims of the suicide- bombing on Easter Day in Lahore

THE suicide bombing in an amusement park in Lahore on Easter Day (News, 1 April) underscores the need for political and religious leaders to go beyond words of condemnation to concrete action, the Archbishop of Canterbury said last week.

Politicians and diplomats must defend religious freedom, he wrote in the Financial Times on Friday, but religious leaders must also “up their game, setting an example of dialogue and communication with each other”.

He wrote: “The treatment of minorities in all major religions must be scrutinised. Religious leaders must hold each other to account, as well as be held to account for how we treat them, particularly those within our own religious or ethnic groups.”

Echoing earlier statements expressing impatience with “bland statements of anaemic intent” in interfaith dialogue (News, 8 May 2015), he called for “honest and robust relationships between religious leaders, not platitudes, however well-intentioned.”

The Archbishop also highlighted Britain’s treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, including those who arrived as refugees fleeing persecution.

The founding vision of Pakistan, which included the “security and flourishing of minorities” was “under grave threat”, he said. But Pakistan was not an exception, he emphasised. In many parts of the world, “Christians find themselves under attack, without legal rights, with believers being murdered and their places of worship destroyed. . . The torrent of tragedy feels overwhelming.”

The Pakistani diaspora had a role to play, too, the Archbishop said (News, 11 October 2013). This week, the chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, Wilson Chowdhry, flew to New York to join International Community Care Foundation, a group of Pakistani Christians based in the United States, to protest outside the UN headquarters.

The Easter Day attack brought back painful memories for the Team Vicar of West Bolton, the Revd Fayaz Adman, who lost 17 members of his family in a suicide bombing at All Saints’, Peshawar, in 2013 (News, 20 September 2013). He had been “unable to speak” on learning of the latest attack, he wrote in a blog.

“I think the basic thing is to pray for these terrorists, and especially those who control these innocent people to offer their lives to be terrorists,” he wrote. “I think that’s a major thing missing in our prayer.” He called, too, for prayers for the Church, and for Christians facing persecution in Pakistan.

A week after the Easter Day attack, about 200 Christians, Muslims, and Hindus gathered at the site for a vigil. Candles were lit, and religious leaders — including the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Samuel Azariah — joined hands as they prayed for the victims and their families.

Vigils have also been held at cathedrals in the UK; and at Great St Mary’s, Cambridge, a former principal of Edwardes College, Peshawar, the Revd Dr David Gosling, gave an address. The best long-term solution to the violence was education, he said. Young suicide-bombers were angry with the status quo, and faced “grim prospects. . . They must be stopped, but demonising them will only make matters worse.”

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