The leader of Pakistan’s Catholics has called on the government to step up security in the wake of the Peshawar school massacre, saying he fears that terrorist attacks will increase.
Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said Tuesday’s terrorist incident at the Army Public School was a “revenge attack” against the Pakistan military and that the Taliban “will stop at nothing now” to harm people.
Speaking today from Karachi, Archbishop Joseph Coutts, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the threat to schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and other public places had grown and that tighter security was crucial.
In a statement issued today strongly condemning the attack, the prelate calls on Pakistan’s 300 or more Catholic schools and colleges to hold prayers and a one-minute silence to remember the 141 people who died.
In his ACN interview, Archbishop Coutts said: “What happened yesterday was a sign of desperation. The Taliban are prepared to carry out brutal attacks, killing school children, shooting them in the head.
“They will stop at nothing now.”
He went on: “The [security services] should be increasing security in public places. We are dealing here with people who have no conscience. It is just blind hatred.”
Stressing that the attack on Peshawar was the Taliban’s response to Pakistan military offences in the Khyber region and North Waziristan, regions close to the Afghan border, Archbishop Coutts said: “The Taliban are wanting to show [the military] that they can hit the [army’s] children and all their families. Their message is: ‘We can get you in your own territory’.”
But the archbishop said that the Peshawar massacre was not a sign of the Taliban’s growing military might.
He said: “I don’t think it was a show of strength. It is more likely to be a last ditch attempt to show what they can do.”
In his statement, the archbishop calls on church communities to “celebrate Christmas in a sober manner as a mark of respect for all victim[s] of terror attacks.”
The statement goes on: “On the birthday of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, all Christians must pray fervently for peace.
“It is the duty of every Christian to be a promoter of peace, reconciliation, harmony and unity … work[ing] together with fellow citizens [so] that Pakistan may be free from the scourge of violence and terrorism.”
He appealed to his faithful to pray not only for those killed Tuesday but also for other Taliban victims including vaccinators against polio as well as the 127 people killed during the September 2013 attack on All Saints’ Church, Peshawar.
Archbishop Coutts also urged people to pray for brick kiln workers Shama Bibi, 24, and Sajjad Maseeh, 27, the young Christian couple burned to death earlier this month for alleged blasphemy.
In his ACN interview, Archbishop Coutts called on friends and benefactors to pray for Christians and others suffering violence in Pakistan.
He said: “It is very important for us to know that there are others praying for us, wanting to help us, wanting to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us in faith.
“In spite of all our difficulties, we find a lot of strength in the prayers of all those who are concerned for us and I thank everybody who is remembering us, especially at this time of great tragedy and sadness.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice & Peace, an advocacy agency of the Catholic bishops’ conference which supports the victims of persecution, also condemned the Peshawar massacre.
In a message signed by Fr Emmanuel Mani, NCJP director, and Cecil Chaudhry, executive director, the agency stated: “We are running out of demands for human rights and now plead to the governments, all political parties, religious leaders, civil society organisations and the judiciary to set aside all their personal and political differences and join hands to end this menace of terrorism collectively.
“The government, both federal and provincial, along with the intelligence agencies should take serious and effective measures to prevent such an atrocity and also demand to increase security and ensure [the] safety of all children and citizens of Pakistan.”
Pakistan is a priority country for Aid to the Church in Need, which in this country of 3 million faithful helps Christians escaping persecution, and provides Child’s Bibles, religious buildings and supports Sisters, seminarians and catechists as well as media projects.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)