After a suicide bomber killed at least 13 people and left 85 dead in an attack on Monday outside the Punjab Assembly in Lahore, Pakistan, Catholic leaders have reacted with indignation and concern, closing schools and even the Lahore cathedral as precautionary measures.
The attack was claimed by the Jamat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the same group that bombed a park frequented by Christians last Easter Sunday, killing 74 persons including at least 14 Christian men, women and children.
“It is really very shocking and heartbreaking news that one again Lahore has become the target of terrorists,” said Dominican Father James Channan, director of a church-affiliated Peace Center in Lahore.
“Pakistan has been an easy target of the militant groups for the past several years, [and] I condemn this act of terror in the strongest words,” Channan said.
He blamed the Pakistan government for what he described as a lethargic response to the threat.
“The government has claimed that a warning was issued on February 7 that such an attack was expected, and the warning of higher alert was issued,” he said, describing that as a “lame excuse.”
“I take it as a failure of the government and law enforcement agencies that security measures were not taken and the terrorists arrested,” he said.
“Such an excuse was also given last year on Easter Sunday,” Channan said.
“At this moment of shock and grief there is a grave need that all law enforcing agencies should sit together and apprehend these terrorist and extremist groups and bring them to justice,” he said. “These groups are already known to the government.”
“I express my condolences with all those who have lost their dear ones, and I pray for the speedy recovery of all those who are injured,” Channan said. “All peace-loving groups and organizations condemn this bomb blast.”
Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore likewise expressed deep sorrow for the victims and prayers for the families.
“With heartfelt and deepest sorrow, on the behalf of Church in Pakistan I sympathize with all the families that lost their relations in this callous and devilish act of terrorism,” Shaw said in a statement.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, relatives and friends of this act of senseless violence. May God give them fortitude to bear the loss.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack and vowed not to be intimidated.
“Such cowardly acts cannot deter the resolve of the nation to stand against terrorism, and our government is committed to root out this menace,” he said.
Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this story from Mumbai.