[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Pakistan is at breaking point, the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, President Bishop Samuel Azariah, has said in response to the Easter Day massacre at the Gulshan-e Iqbal Park in Lahore.
At least 72 people were killed and more than 300 injured after a bomb exploded in the park. Many of the victims were women and children. A Taleban off-shoot, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, saying that the target of the attack was Christians celebrating Easter.
While Christians were the stated target of the attack, the bomb was indiscriminate and it is understood that many more Muslims were killed and injured than Christians. Officials say that they expect the death toll to rise in the coming days. Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park is one of the largest parks of Lahore. It is usually packed with visitors on weekends; but the crowds were busier on Sunday, with what the Church of Pakistan described as “an extraordinary rush” on Sunday evening “as a large number of Christians had turned up to celebrate Easter.”
Bishop Azariah, visited hospitals in the aftermath of the attack to console and pray for the injured and to analyse the situation. In a video message recorded late on Easter Day, he said that “some of the injured are very critically,” adding: “I have personally met and seen small children, women, old people. Some of them unconscious. Some of them from our church and from our diocese. It is a very, very, tragic and sad event.”
In the video, recorded before Jamaat-ul-Ahrar had claimed responsibility, Bishop Azariah said: “We cannot say that this was targeted at any one particular group or any one particular community. But it was definitely targeted to create chaos, confusion, fear and anxiety amongst the people.”
He continued: “Please keep us in your prayers and may this time of Easter – a celebration of Christ’s victory over death and the grave – be a meaningful and a consoling experience for many of our people who are in the hospital at the moment. . . God bless us and may the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ prevail amongst us.”
The Church of Pakistan is a United Church which brings together Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans. In addition to being a member of the Anglican Communion, the Church is also a member of the World Council of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council.
Responding to the attack, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “We pray for the victims of Lahore to the crucified God who brings hope in despair, whose love is with the victims, who promises justice.”
The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said: “Let’s continue to say no to terror and act likewise. Condolences and prayers to all affected.”
The Archbishop of South East Asia, Moon Hing, said: “It is a sad day. . . Praying for the people and the victims and standing in solidarity with them in their sufferings. God have mercy.”
The three Primates of the Anglican Church Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Philip Richardson, Brown Turei, and Winston Halapua, said that “people of peace from all faiths need to stand in solidarity to condemn the bombing in city of Lahore.”
Archbishop Philip Richardson, who leads the New Zealand dioceses, said that “we as a nation have to recommit ourselves to ensuring that we never allow for the climate of suspicion and distrust between people of faiths to develop in New Zealand. Rather, we must commit ourselves even more strongly to building dialogue across differences. We must continue to build our community based on understanding, justice and peace.”
In a later statement, posted on his Facebook page, Bishop Azariah, said that such terror attacks “weaken and damage the struggle and effort toward bringing a relation of peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims.”
He said: “It is unfortunate that these inhuman terrorists identify themselves as Muslims and by performing such barbaric acts damage the image of their faith community. In a context of this nature, it is the primary responsibility of our majority brothers and sisters from the Muslim community to identify, silence and eliminate this minority.
“This minority claims to be the real Muslims, and primarily acts against the teaching of Islam and this should be resolved.
“Mere statements of condemnation and quotes from The Holy Scriptures are not enough. We as a nation have reached a breaking point that ‘enough is enough.’ How many more soft targets have to be sacrificed?”
Bishop Samuel Azariah’s video, recorded late on Easter Day