As Easter Sunday ended in Lahore, Pakistan, Bishop Sammy Azariah was still at a hospital visiting those injured by a suicide bomb attack in a public park where many Christian families were celebrating the holiday.
In an email sent to the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, Azariah — the moderator of the Church of Pakistan — reported that a number of people from the church were injured in the attack. Lahore is the historic center of Christianity in Pakistan.
“According to my information, over 100 people (mostly children and women) from different faith communities have died,” he wrote. “It is correct that a large number of them are Christians.”
The official death toll stood at 70 on March 28, including at least 29 children. The Pakistani Taliban's Jamaat-ur-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility, according to Reuters, and said it was targeting Christians.
“The continued experience of the cross is not only painful, but does strengthen (us) to move forward in hope for healing and reconciliation,” said Azariah, who noted he had met some of the victims at the Easter sunrise service.
“Please continue to pray for peace, and wisdom upon the religious and political leaders of the world, especially Pakistan, to deal with this menace of religious extremism and violence in unity and with firmness,” he said.
‘Sense of outrage’
For Thomas Kemper, top executive for Global Ministries, the Easter Sunday attack evoked both prayers and “a sense of outrage” over the horror and inhumanity.
Kemper expressed his sorrow to the families of those killed, the many injured and the Church of Pakistan. In a statement, he called for prayer in the face of “a never ending series of violence against the minority Christian community of Pakistan.”
“Again and again we pray for peace, reconciliation, and safety for all the people of that troubled country. While we condemn their actions, we also pray for the perpetrators, asking God to lead them to the righteousness of nonviolence.”
The United Methodist Church maintains ties and ministries with the Church of Pakistan, a united Protestant denomination whose 1970 merger included Methodists. Currently, Global Ministries is helping support Insar Gohar, a church staff member, who is attending United Methodist Claremont School of Theology.
Gohar lost two children and his mother when the All Saints Church in Peshawar, which dated from the 19th century, was bombed in September 2013. His wife, Uzma Insar, was badly injured.
Kemper said Christians in Pakistan have endured “decades of violence at the hands of extremist factions within the major Muslim population. They endure with a remarkable resilience that should be an example to followers of Jesus Christ everywhere, showing strength in the face of hardship and faith in the love of God in all circumstances.”
Rachel Lampard, vice-president designate of the British Methodist Conference, visited the Church of Pakistan in Lahore earlier this month and posted a prayer on Facebook in response to the terrorist attack.
“We hold before you the Christians and the Muslims who are working for reconciliation in Pakistan,” the prayer said in part. “Who bravely speak out against injustice, and demonstrate that Christianity and Islam are religions of peace.”
Protect freedom of belief
The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, head of the World Council of Churches, called the attack “particularly shocking” for its targeting of young children enjoying Easter Sunday afternoon in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park.
“In the face of this brutality, the human family, all people of faith and of good will, must stand together to recommit to respecting and caring for one another, to protecting one another, and to preventing such violence,” he said in a statement.
Tveit called upon Pakistan’s government to protect all people in Pakistan. “The principle of freedom of religion and belief for all people must be affirmed and protected in Pakistan, and throughout the world, as a fundamental ethical and legal responsibility of government.”
Azariah is a member of the World Council of Churches Central Committee.
Earlier this month, he and the Church of Pakistan in Lahore hosted a conference, “Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation,” which brought together representatives from all dioceses in Pakistan, as well as several international partners from Norway.
The focus was on interreligious cooperation, both in Norway, with its minority Muslim population, and in Pakistan, with its majority Muslim population.
Threats to children
Marvin Pervez, the former director of the Afghanistan/Pakistan program of Church World Service who now leads Community World Service Asia, told United Methodist News Service that his team and their families were safe but in mourning. “Pakistanis all around the country are in shock at the barbaric attack at the children's park,” he said.
“First, they came for Malala, who was an advocate for education and now they are attacking our schools, universities and parks,” Pervez added. “They are trying to hit us where it hurts the most, our kids.
“But we, as a nation, have decided that we want a just, fair, equal and democratic Pakistan (and) these terror groups will not weaken our resolve,” he said.
“We are grateful to friends and communities around the globe who are showing solidarity and praying for Pakistan.”
Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or [email protected]