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By ICC's Pakistan Correspondent,
International Christian Concern
Christians across Pakistan scaled downed this year's Christmas celebrations out of respect for killing of over 140 innocent schoolchildren and teachers at the Army Public School in Peshawar and the grizzly murder of a Christian couple in Kasur over last quarter of 2014. This incident of extreme violence marked the end of another year in Pakistan, which is dominated by unrest, persecution and injustice for the country's Christians.
On December 16, militants belonging to the Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan stormed the military-run Army Public School in Peshawar and opened fire indiscriminately on the students and teachers they encountered. When local authorities finally secured the school, around 150 schoolchildren and teachers had been killed.
In an interview with ICC, Rev. Father Samson Shukardin, a nominated Catholic Bishop, expressed his views on the attack, "We are highly sad for the loss of innocent lives of schoolchildren in Peshawar and in the same manner; we remember a Christian couple set on fire alive by religious extremists in Punjab. We stand in solidarity with all the victim families of terrorism and religious hatred during this Christmas."
Rev. Shukardin, who is set to be installed as Bishop in few weeks, urged the government to take affirmative action to curb terrorism and religious extremism in Pakistan. He informed ICC that special prayer services and candle vigils have been arranged in all of the churches in his diocese out of respect for those killed at the Army Public School in Peshawar.
Mr. Victor Mughal, the principal at St. Francis School in Lahore said, "This is the century's heartbreaking incident. Children are the future of the nation; therefore the government should introduce sincere legislation to control terrorism and securing the lives of common citizens."
In partnership with local NGO's, St. Francis School organized a prayer-walk in their school compound on the day following the school incident in Peshawar.
In response to the Peshawar tragedy, Christians all over Pakistan condemned the barbaric act and expressed solidarity and concern with the victims and their families. During midnight and morning Mass on Christmas Day, pastors and priests from different church affiliations led their congregations in prayer for the victims, the victims' families, and the survivors of the horrifying massacre.
Areel Bhatti, age 14 and a Christian student at Edwards's School & College in Peshawar paid a solidarity visit to the Army Public School, which has now been covered in flowers and lit candles in remembrance for the victims of the school shooting. Talking with ICC, Areel said, "The terrorists cannot keep us away from schooling. We, the students of different faiths, are united and committed to build a secure and peaceful country."
On December 20, at Caritas Pakistan Karachi, a prayer service was held in solidarity with the victims' families. At this service, Christians lit candles in memory of the children and staff of Army Public School, Peshawar.
Dozens of Christian organizations, groups, human rights activists, and individuals across Pakistan condemned the attack and expressed solidarity and concerns with the victims.
Haroon Johnson, age 12 and a Christian student from the Army Public School, was present at the school when it was attacked. In an interview with ICC, Haroon shared his first-hand information regarding the day of the incident. "I am happy and thankful to Jesus Christ for saving me at that difficult time," Haroon said."However, I am sad for losing hundreds of schoolmates, including two of my close friends."
"I felt almost dead when heard about the attack on my son's school and the casualties," said Haroon's father, Sohail Masih. "Searching and standing helpless in front of my son's school was an unbearable moment. Thank God, I have not lost my son. However, I feel extremely sad for the others parents."
Like most of Pakistan's Christian population, the Masih family canceled much of their holiday plans to show respect to those whose children were killed in the attack on the school. "To express concern and solidarity with the grieving families, I did not purchase new dresses or toys for my kids this Christmas," Masih added. "We even cancelled the family get-togethers, outings and dinner parties."
Haroon told ICC that he is committed to serving the country as an army officer in the future to help curb terrorism. Out of the estimated 1,500 students attending the Army Public School, only three are Christians, mainly due to the low economic status Christians face because of broad discrimination and persecution.
After visiting the school and interviewing survivors, ICC can report that none of the Christian students at the Army Public School were killed or injured during the attack. Despite this fact, the entire Christian community of Pakistan celebrated this Christmas in a solemn fashion out of respect for those killed in the school attack. These actions by Pakistan's Christian community should remind the world that the death of children is a tragedy, regardless of their religious identity.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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