MUMBAI, India – After the bombing of a Methodist church in northwestern Pakistan that left nine people dead, the country’s Catholic-sponsored National Commission for Justice and Peace has condemned what it called “the cowardly and inhuman attack on the church and innocent worshippers.”
Sixty people were also injured in the Sunday bombing at Bethel Memorial Church, located in Quetta in northwestern Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. The assault has been credited to the Islamic State group.
While applauding security forces for their prompt intervention, the commission called upon the Pakistani government to do more to combat the violence perpetrated by militant Islamic movements.
“The commission calls upon the government to bring the perpetrators to justice and address extremist elements and root causes of this intolerance,” the statement said. “They further stress the need to tighten measures for protection of all citizens, especially during this time of Christmas. They also request the community to cooperate with officials and extend their volunteer services for the protection and security of people during the Christmas season.”
The statement was signed by Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Lahore; Father Emmanuel Yousaf, national director of the commission; and Cecil S. Chaudhry, a layman who serves as the body’s executive director. The National Commission for Justice and Peace was founded in 1985 by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
“The uncertainty of life is inevitable, but precious lives lost in such an untimely manner are increasing in Pakistan,” the statement said.
“We thus pray to our Lord Jesus Christ that as a nation He may grant us strength, wisdom, tolerance and peace. May God give strength to the families of the victims to endure the loss of their loved ones and speedy recovery for the injured,” it said.
The commission’s statement also calls for the full implementation of a landmark June 19, 2014, ruling by Pakistan’s Supreme Court holding that freedom of religion must also include freedom of conscience, thought, expression, belief and faith, issued in the wake of the bombing of a church in Peshawar that killed 100 people.
Finally, the statement calls on government officials “to join hands with local church volunteers in providing them adequate training on emergency situations.”
The Dec. 17 attack was merely the latest on Christian targets in recent years, with scores of private Christian homes burned, churches looted and defiled, and private Christian citizens harassed and physically assaulted.
Although Christianity is one of the two largest non-Christian religions in Pakistan with an estimated 2.5 million adherents (the other being Hinduism), the Christian share of the population is only about 1.5 percent.
At times the climate of persecution of Christians in the country can become so intense that extreme measures may seem the only alternative to call attention to their plight. In 1998, Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad shot himself to death in protest over the execution of a Christian man on trumped-up blasphemy charges brought by Muslim accusers.