By ICC's Pakistan Correspondent
International Christian Concern)
"We are still sad for our beloved ones who scarified their lives in the church last year," Bishop Humphrey Peters, leader of the Anglican Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, told ICC in an interview during the first anniversary of the All Saints Church bombing."We salute and pay tribute to them for their contributions in strengthening the local church and witnessing that Jesus is the Savior."On September 22, 2013, two suicide bombers connected to the Pakistani Taliban detonated themselves in the outer courtyard of All Saints Church in Peshawar. Around 600 Christians were leaving the Sunday worship service, which had just concluded when two bombs exploded. This terrorist attack resulted in 98 official casualties, although this number is greatly disputed, and over 150 other Christians suffering major and minor injuries.
Bombing Victims Remembered
Around 1,500 Christians belonging to different denominations commemorated the 98 victims of the All Saints Church bombing in a prayer service, which lasted throughout the day on September 22, 2014. An exhibition of paintings made by the late Noel William, a Christian artist killed in last year's bombing, also took place in the church compound.
A local Christian organization launched a petition demanding protection of Christians and their places of worship. The petition was signed by renowned religious and political leadership as well as human rights activists and local Christians who attended the proceedings at All Saints Church.
All the church-run educational institutions remained closed in Peshawar on the anniversary of the bombing. Besides offering prayers in the church, the grieving families also visited the graveyards, showering flower petals on graves and lighting candles for the loved ones they lost.
Christians across Pakistan also staged peaceful rallies and organized candle vigils to commemorate the victims of the bombing. The rallies demanded more protection for Christians and equal rights in Pakistan.
An Uncertain Future for Christians in Peshawar
When asked about the future of Christians in Peshawar, the Bishop was pessimistic; however, despite the insecure and often perilous situation for Christians in Pakistan, the Bishop emphasized that they have and must continue to play vital role in the betterment of Pakistan and its troubled society.
"Keeping [the recent] wave of religious extremism in view, I am doubtful for a safe future for Christians in Peshawar," Bishop continued. He also urged authorities to take more practical steps for the protection and security of Christians across the nation.
Talking with ICC, Father John William, a local Christian leader in Peshawar, said, "Apparently, the situation of Christians in Peshawar is unfavorable. However, I hope that if we educate our youth and make them competitive in every field of life, we can survive in this society. Otherwise, I foresee no future for Christians."
Talking with ICC, Mr. Gulshan Bhatti of the Awami National Party criticized the government for ignoring the Christian community on the first anniversary of the single most deadly attack on Christian in Pakistan's history. He pointed out that not a single government official visited the Church leadership for condolences during the many ceremonies held in remembrance of last years bombing.
"Hundreds of Christians are seeking asylum in different countries and Hindus are migrating to India; this proves that religious minorities are insecure," Bhatti explained to ICC.
Mr. Fredrick Azeem Ghouri, a Christian Parliamentarian in the Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa added a different view. According to Azeem, "Terrorists do not belong to a specific religion, they are damaging the overall society, which has affected almost every family of the province; Therefore Christians should not detach themselves from this scenario."
"Keeping [the] bombing of All Saints Church in view, one should not come to a conclusion that only Christians are unsafe, because Muslims and their mosques are also the targets of the extremists," Azeem explained.
Despite this split in opinion, many fear for the future of the Christian community in both Peshawar and Pakistan more generally. Religious extremism and religiously motivated violence against Christians and other minorities continues to escalate dramatically. Christian persecution in Pakistan is very real and has touched the lives of countless Christians in Pakistan, including the community affected by last year's bombing of All Saints Church. In response, the Global Church and the international community must take notice of this persecuted community before it is too late and it disappears altogether.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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