"We Christians in Pakistan Suffer the Consequences"

Interview with Priest at Church Where 16 Were Massacred

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BAHAWALPUR, Pakistan, OCT. 28, 2001 (ZENIT.orgFides).- The pastor of St. Dominic´s Church, where 16 Christian worshippers were gunned down this morning, said he believes the attack was linked to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Catholic Bishop of Multan Andrew Francis and other local authorities were expected to attend a funeral service for the dead tonight. The Vatican agency Fides put the number of dead at 17; other news agencies reported 16 deaths.

Dominican Father Rocco Patras, 40, has been parish priest for five years.

In an interview with Fides, he said: «We have always lived peacefully with everyone. For at least 30 years we have hosted non-Catholic services. For example, the Church of Pakistan [composed of various denominations] holds a service at 8, and this is followed by the Catholic Mass at 9.»

Q: Do you think this attack is connected with the bombing in Afghanistan?

Father Patras: I certainly do. In Pakistan there are many groups of Muslim fundamentalists, connected with terrorist networks in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

It is always the same story. When a Muslim country is attacked by Western powers, we Christians in Pakistan suffer the consequences: murder, torture, suffering. It happened during the Gulf War 10 years ago. And four years ago one of our Christian villages was totally destroyed.

Q: What reaction has there been among the local people, the Muslims?

Father Patras: Everyone is very sympathetic. The local authorities are distressed by what has happened. The Religious Minorities Minister Ghalib Ranjha visited us to voice his sympathy. The fundamentalists are only a small group. The majority show sympathy and solidarity.

Q: Was the church sufficiently protected?

Father Patras: There were only two guards, not much. But the situation in Pakistan is very disrupted by the present state of tension and the attack was so sudden.

Q: Why would fundamentalist Muslims in Pakistan kill their fellow citizens in protest against the Allied attacks in Afghanistan?

Father Patras: Because they say: The Christians of America and Britain and France are bombing our Muslim brothers, so we will kill their Christian brothers. It has always been like this in Pakistan, but I fear things may get worse.

The government is ready to protect us, but there are so many situations of tension in the country, anti-government demonstrations. I am afraid there will be more victims among the Christians.

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