MUMBAI, India – Catholic leaders in Pakistan have condemned the murder of an Anglican priest on Sunday.
Father William Siraj, 75, was killed while on his way home after attending Sunday Mass in the city of Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that borders Afghanistan. One of his traveling companions, Father Naeem Patrick, was wounded while a third priest was unharmed in the attack.
The attackers fled the scene. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the killing.
“We condemn this incident,” said Bishop Samson Shukardin of the Catholic Diocese of Hyderabad.
“It is very sad that once again in Peshawar these incidents are taking place, earlier it was the suicide bombings, now for the church of Pakistan this incident of [Siraj],” he told Crux.
“There is uneasiness, for some time things were quiet, but suddenly not only this incident, but the bombings too. This is worrying. We request the government to investigate, and give security to the minorities especially the Christians,” the bishop said.
Shukardin was referring to the Jan. 20 bombing of a market in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city.
Dominican Father James Channan, director of the Lahore-based Peace Center, called the attack on Siraj and his companions “tragic and shocking.”
“This incident has created a sense of insecurity in us, especially, religious leaders and human rights activists and promoters of interfaith harmony and peace. Assistant Pastor William was a harmless person. He was a teacher for many years and now serving in the Church as Assistant Pastor. He was a member of the Anglican Church, which is part of the Church of Pakistan,” he told Crux.
“Messages of condemnation are sent by the government officials as well as by the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Christian religious leaders and civil society as well. Such attacks in the Khyber Pakhtun Khaw Province and especially in the provincial capital Peshawar are common. It was in 2013 that Church of all Saints in Peshawar was attacked by two suicide bombers in which 126 Christians were killed on Sunday during the prayers,” Channan said.
“I am very saddened to know about this recent attack. Unfortunately sleeping cells of militant groups such as Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have woken up and they have started attacks on armed forces, police, civilians, religious and political leaders as well. Very recently there have been attacks on the mosques, Hindu temples and Churches as well in which hundreds of people including Muslims, Christians and Sikh leaders have also been killed by the extremist groups and TTP,” he continued.
“Our government needs to take very strict measures against such elements an ensure protection of all citizens,” the priest said.
Christians are a tiny minority in this predominantly Sunni Muslim country, where about half are members of the Church of Pakistan, a Protestant church belonging to the Anglican Communion and other international bodies. The other half are mostly Catholic. Militants in Pakistan have targeted Christians several times in recent years.
Overall, militant attacks have increased across Pakistan since the Pakistani Taliban ended a cease-fire with the government in Islamabad last month. The Pakistani Taliban, also known as TTP, have become emboldened by the Afghan Taliban’s sweep to power in the neighboring country in mid-August.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an NGO dedicated to helping persecuted Christians, also condemned the most recent attack and called on the Pakistani government to honor its commitments to protect religious minorities.
“It has been over seven and a half years since the Pakistani Supreme Court issued a landmark judgement instructing the government to protect minorities, and yet attacks such as these are not met with sufficient action or even condemnation from senior figures in Pakistan, including Prime Minister Imran Khan himself. We call on the government of Pakistan to ensure that this attack is thoroughly investigated, that the perpetrators are prosecuted, and to significantly increase its efforts to protect minority communities across the country,” said Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s president.
CSW’s South Asia Team Leader told Crux he also “highly condemned” the murder of the Anglican clergyman.
“Further I demand that the government should immediately apprehend the perpetrators of this attack. Once again the state has failed to protect its minorities,” said the CSW official, who asked their name not be used due to security concerns.
“If this government keeps giving space to the extremists’ mindset, sadly we will see more such incidents occurring against soft targets. My prayers for the soul of Pastor William Siraj. May he rest in eternal peace. Wishes for speedy recovery of Rev. Naeem Patrick and strength for the families during this difficult time,” the CSW official said.
This report used material from the Associated Press.