Pakistani Christians Call for Protection, Unity After Church Blast

The two-million population of Christians has been the target of a series of attacks in Pakistan.

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World
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Christians carry the coffin of one of the victims killed by a suicide attack on a church, during his funeral in Lahore, March 17, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

A year ago, Wasif Masih, 16, had a narrow escape when a suicide bomber from a faction of the Pakistani Taliban blew himself up during a Sunday mass outside his church in a Christian neighbourhood in the eastern city of Lahore.

This past Easter Sunday on 27 March, Wasif could not escape death when the same Taliban faction, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, sent another suicide bomber to a Lahore park full of families, killing 72 people including at least 29 children.

Wasif was so close to the blast that the bomber’s head fell at his feet, his mother, Zubaida Masih, said as the family mourned at their house in Nishtar Colony, a neighbourhood with both Christian and Muslim families.

It was as if they were following him. He escaped them then but they came after him again, in the park. If there was better security, this wouldn’t have happened.
Zubaida Masih
Eric John survived Sunday’s attack. He weeps during the funeral of his cousin killed. (Photo: AP/KM Chaudary)
Eric John survived Sunday’s attack. He weeps during the funeral of his cousin killed. (Photo: AP/KM Chaudary)

Christians, who number around 2 million in a nation of 190 million people, have been the target of a series of attacks in recent years.

In March 2015, suicide bombers struck Masih’s Christ Church and another close by, killing at least 14 people. In 2013, a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a 130-year-old church in Peshawar after Sunday Mass, killing at least 78 people.

Now the Easter attack conducted by Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, which once swore support for the Islamic State, has fuelled worries that militants in Pakistan are increasingly subscribing to the IS brand of ultra-sectarian violence against those perceived as infidels.

Terrorists were never so focused on our community. Now all their attention is on us. Perhaps it’s time for the government to turn their attention towards us also. These people are roaming around freely and no one is stopping them.
Irshad Ashnaz, Christ Church Vicar

Pope Francis condemned the attack as “hideous” and demanded that Pakistani authorities protect religious minorities.

Pakistani nuns hold candles during a vigil for victims of Sunday’s deadly suicide bombing in a park. (Photo: AP/KM Chaudary)
Pakistani nuns hold candles during a vigil for victims of Sunday’s deadly suicide bombing in a park. (Photo: AP/KM Chaudary)

Since the 2014 massacre of 134 schoolchildren at a military-run academy in Peshawar, authorities have launched a crackdown on Islamist militants in the Punjab province.

On Tuesday, a provincial minister said authorities had detained more than 5,000 militant suspects but later released most of them.

Punjab government spokesman Zaeem Qadri said the government had stepped up security at churches after the previous attacks, which was why militants had picked a park this time. He said over the past year, the government had uncovered more than 200 plots and arrested around 15,000 suspects.

Parks are public places. On a public holiday there should have been more vigilance. But there was a gap. Christians are as safe as anyone else. They are as safe as any other Pakistani is.
Zaeem Qadri, Spokesperson of Punjab Government

Amid the fear, many Christians called for unity and brotherhood.

At a vigil on Monday in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park, where the bomber struck, Father Jamal Albert said:

Whether you are Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim, you are unsafe and they are trying to break down our nation, destroy our sense of oneness, our sense of being Pakistanis. Rest assured we will not be deterred by such episodes. This is our country just as much as anyone else’s. In fact, we are more resolved than ever to go on.

Irfan Jamil, the bishop of Lahore, said the government was trying its best.

There are people who live to live and there are people who live to die. How much protection is enough protection against such people. There is always room for improvement. Many of us don’t feel that we are secure.
Irfan Jamil, Bishop of Lahore

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