“I visited every bedside and every victim, of whatever faith. It was truly difficult, because I saw so many children, only four or five years old, both Christians and Muslims, who had been wounded or killed by this terrible attack.”
The words are those of Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shah of Lahore, who was speaking exclusively to ACN, following the attack at around 6:30 PM local time Easter Sunday in a public park in Lahore, the capital of the Pakistani Punjab province.
The archbishop spoke to ACN after returning from the hospital where he had visited many of the more than 300 people injured in the attack and to the families of the 72 people who were killed by it. Among this last group there were some 30 children.
Archbishop Shah confirmed the fact that for the Christian community in Pakistan, on special feast days such as Christmas and Easter it is customary for people, after Holy Mass and after eating together as a family, to go out for a stroll in the park to continue the festivities.
“After the attacks last year on two Christian churches in the Youhanabad quarter, we were fearful that there might be another attack, and for this reason the government had provided all the necessary security measures to protect the churches – but no one had thought about the park,” he said. On the afternoon of Holy Saturday the local authorities had even issued a briefing in order to organise the necessary security measures. Archbishop Shah believes it is likely that the Christian community was the target of the attacks, but at the same time he underlined that there were also many Muslims among those killed and wounded. The archbishop also expressed his condolences and sympathies to these Muslims. “To my own faithful I said that they must not give up hope because, even though we were going through a period of grave difficulties, we have to learn to rise up again, just as Christ was able to raise himself again, despite carrying the Cross. And so we too, while carrying our own cross, have to be able to get up again and move forward. Because God is and will always be with us.”
Also speaking on the telephone to ACN from Lahore, Peter Jacob, the former director of the Pakistan Justice and Peace Commission, confirmed that the terrorists had sought to cause the highest possible number of victims and in particular to strike at the Christian community. At the same time he emphasised the increased effort on the part of the Pakistani army and government to confront terrorism, and he didn’t exclude the possibility that the choice of the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, not far from the family home of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, might have been a message addressed to the premier. “This is his city, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif also lives here,” he noted, “hence we can’t exclude the possibility that the attackers wanted in some way to send a warning to the authorities.”
The attack may also have been linked to the serious tensions that followed the recent execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who in 2011 murdered the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who was “guilty” in his eyes of having criticised the anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Qadri was viewed by many of his supporters as a “hero” for “justly” killing a blasphemer, and for this reason his execution had been deferred for a long time. His execution was followed by numerous protests throughout the country. “We cannot exclude a certain ideological link between the demonstrations and the killers in this case,” Peter Jacob affirmed.
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