THE president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference called the suicide bomb attack on September 22 at All Saints’ Church, Peshawar a “shameful act of cowardice”.
He said all Christian educational institutions in the country would be closed September 23-25 in mourning and protest.
Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi demanded the Pakistani government take immediate steps to apprehend those responsible for the attack and to take measures to protect the worship sites of all religious minorities in Pakistan.
“We condemn this act in strongest terms,” Archbishop Coutts said in a September 22 statement.
The death toll in the bombing had reached 85 by September 23. Authorities expected it to increase because many of the 150 who were injured were in critical condition.
Police said two suicide bombers, each wearing more than 6kg of explosives, detonated themselves following a Sunday service as 600 members of the Protestant church gathered on the church lawn for food distribution.
Jundallah, a group linked to the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in response to US drone strikes, the latest of which September 22 reportedly killed seven people in the tribal area of North Waziristan.
“This tragedy of unprecedented scale saddens us all,” a statement from Peter Jacob, the head of Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace in Pakistan, said.
“Rather than an emotional outburst-reaction we need to strengthen our efforts and initiatives for a long-term response.
“For us it is a foregone conclusion that peace is the way to change.”
But already enraged Christians took to the streets in cities across the country to protest the attack, with many condemning both the government and the militants. One Lahore demonstration demanded the resignation of the provincial official responsible for providing security to its religious minorities.
Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bomb blasts, expressing sorrow and shock over the loss of life.
“Terrorists have no religion, and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions,” he said.