ROME — After a coordinated terrorist attack on two churches that left 17 people dead in Pakistan, some local Christians are engaging in angry protests demanding greater police protection while others are simply packing their bags to flee.
“We’ve already gone through this, and we won’t stay here and wait,” a Pakistani Christian woman who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals told Crux by phone.
“We’ve had our homes burned, our families torn apart by death and suffering,” she said. “We won’t wait for the violence to start again, while the government stands and watches.”
She’s one of the thousands of Christians living in Lahore, Pakistan’s capital city.
“I fear for my life and for that of my family members,” she said while getting ready to leave her home, leaving behind most of her belongings to find shelter “somewhere safe.”
“We can’t stay here,” she said. “Extremists know who we (Christians) are, where we live. Please, pray for us! We don’t ask for much, just that you keep us in your prayers!”
On Sunday morning, while Catholics and Protestants were celebrating their respective services in the neighborhood of Youhanabad, two suicide bombers — members of a splinter Taliban group — orchestrated a terrorist attack in Lahore that killed 17 and wounded 78.
Had it not been for a volunteer security guard who stopped one of the terrorists from going into the Catholic church, the result could have been even more tragic.
The local Christian community reacted immediately by rioting, burning alive two men suspected of aiding the bombers, and destroying cars and a bus station.
“We’re tired of living in danger and in constant state of alert,” the woman who spoke to Crux said. The Church of St. John targeted last Sunday is her church. “I’m still in shock, how many lives lost!” she added.
On the Sunday of the attacks, Pakistani Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said “the government has failed to protect us.” He said that Christians have pleaded for protection, warning of impending attacks, to no avail.
Shaw said the members of the congregation who blocked the terrorists from entering the church at the cost of their own lives were martyrs.
In an e-mail to Germany-based Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, head of Pakistan’s Bishops Conference, blamed the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for failing to prevent the attacks.
Coutts criticized Sharif and his ministers for not implementing a 2014 Supreme Court order to provide security in all places of worship.
“This new act of terrorism has cruelly shown how defenseless we are due to this neglect,” he said. “Once again, the state has not been able to provide safety to its citizens.”
On Tuesday morning, Vatican Radio reported that more than 10,000 faithful participated in a mass funeral held for the 17 people killed. Attending were the local Catholic archbishop, Protestant leaders, civil authorities, and some Muslim leaders in a sign of solidarity with Christians.
During the funeral, Shaw said that “there’s no need nor desire for a civil war. We Christians are people of peace. We don’t allow for pain to cloud our eyes: The eyes of Christ and his Gospel.”
“What future do we want to build in Pakistan?” Shaw asked. “A future of harmony and reconciliation.”
Pakistan’s estimated 3 million Christians — Catholic and Protestants — represent less than 2 percent of the total population.
Persecution has been a constant for many years: In 1998, Bishop John Joseph committed suicide in protest against the cruel treatment of Christians in Pakistan, religious intolerance, and blasphemy legislation that has put many non-Muslims on death row. In 2013, twin suicide attacks were carried out at All Saints Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate area, killing 80 and wounding hundreds.
Minutes after Sunday’s attack, Pope Francis expressed his pain over the bombings and his closeness with the victims and their families.
“I pray to the Lord that the persecution against Christians, that the world is trying to hide, comes to an end,” he said. “Let there be peace!”