Priest’s killing signals return of fear for Pakistani Christians – UCA News

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

The terror attack occurred outside a church built in memory of martyrs of the 2013 suicide attack on All Saints Church

Priest’s killing signals return of fear for Pakistani Christians – UCA News
Priest's killing signals return of fear for Pakistani Christians

The funeral of Pastor William Siraj is held at All Saints Church, Peshawar, on Jan. 31. (Photo supplied)

The daylight attack by motorcycle-riding gunmen on two Christian priests, killing one and wounding another, has reignited fears among Pakistan’s beleaguered minority community.

The priests were attacked as they drove home from a Sunday service in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Jan. 30, 

“We want to convey a positive message. We stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers,” said Tahir Ashrafi, special representative on religious affairs to Prime Minister Imran Khan.Donate to UCA News with a small contribution of your choice

Ashrafi sought to assure Pakistan’s Christians that the prime minister was personally overseeing the matter, calling it “an attack on Pakistan.”

“This isn’t an issue of one community or a pastor. It is an attempt to spread fear and defame the country. Blood in churches, mosques and sacrifices of our soldiers led to peace,” he said at a press conference.

Christian activists slammed Ashrafi’s presser. “This is an eyewash. The nation is tired of condemnations. We demand arrest of the murderers and their punishment,” said Samson Salamat, chairman of Rwadari Tehreek.

The country has been hijacked by Islamists who want Islamization in the country and are openly propagating faith-based hatred

Human rights lawyer Nadeem Anthony called it a political stunt. “The cleric is trying to mislead the ongoing investigation. They [the government] are trying to escape the responsibility of protecting the innocent and vulnerable community,” he told UCA News.

“It is a pity that the new year started with this heinous hate attack. The country has been hijacked by Islamists who want Islamization in the country and are openly propagating faith-based hatred,” Anthony said.

Hina Jilani, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, called the incident “a blatant assault not only on Pakistan’s Christian community but on all religious minorities whose right to life and security of person remains under constant threat.”

She was particularly concerned with the signs of growing radicalization across the country and feared the relegation of religious minorities to the margins even as violence against them continued with impunity.Related News-Islamic reforms in Pakistan schools worry education activistsPakistani netizens divided over blasphemy death sentenceBlasphemy case registered over church attack in PakistanPastor killed, another injured in ‘terrorist act’ in Pakistan

“It has been eight years since the Supreme Court judgment handed down by Justice Tassaduq Jillani in 2014 laid down concrete measures for the state to protect the rights of religious minorities. More than ever, the ethos of this judgment must be understood and pursued by all arms of the state — which includes promptly investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of violence against religious minorities — if Pakistan is to roll back the damage done by the rise of the far right,” Jilani stated in a press note.

Minorities in Pakistan have been demanding an independent commission in line with the Supreme Court judgment directing the federal government to create a national council for the rights of minorities and provincial governments to create task forces for religious tolerance, protect places of worship and a crackdown on hate speech, among other measures.

The murder in Peshawar reminded them of their continued vulnerability.

The gunmen opened fire and killed assistant lay Pastor William Siraj while Pastor Patrick Naeem had a miraculous escape.

“The bullets scratched my body. They [the gunmen] wore a shawl, I couldn’t recognize them. It was a planned attack,” recalled the Church of Pakistan pastor in a video message recorded later.

“I thank God for saving me to share his witness. He gives martyrdom and life. Our churches will never get closed. We will continue worshipping. We need your prayers,” he appealed to the faithful. 

Pastor Naeem recited the Bible at Pastor Siraj’s funeral at All Saints Church. Catholic priests of Peshawar joined the mourners. Church-run schools remained closed around the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“This martyrdom is another step towards survival of Christians in this country. The local church faces many challenges. We are very sad,” said Church of Pakistan Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter of Peshawar.

As we mark Candlemas today, we pray for the light of Christ’s justice, hope and peace for our sisters and brothers in the Church of Pakistan

Pastor Siraj was buried amid heavy police security.

“Papa don’t go. It’s dark down there. My papa is going,” cried his daughter, who was widowed in 2013 when suicide bombers attacked All Saints Church in Peshawar.

Shaheedain e-All Saints Church or the “Martyrs of the All Saints Church” was erected in 2015 in memory of the 85 people who died in the bombing.  

Church leaders and foreign envoys flooded social media to express solidarity with the Christians of Pakistan.

“As we mark Candlemas today, we pray for the light of Christ’s justice, hope and peace for our sisters and brothers in the Church of Pakistan,” stated Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in a tweet.

“The tragic death of Pastor William Siraj and wounding of Rev. Patrick Naeem yesterday in #Peshawar is a call to action against hate, and a reminder of the need for religious tolerance and #FreedomofBelief,” stated Wendy Gilmour, Canada’s high commissioner to Pakistan, in a tweet.

Following the funeral, a group of Muslim clerics prayed inside a local church in Peshawar.

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