Pope Francis has called on everyone to pray for the victims of the “abominable attack” in Pakistan on Easter Sunday that led to “the massacre of many innocent persons,” most of them women and children from families of the Christian minority. He expressed his personal closeness to the families of all the victims.
He urged people to pray to God “to stop the hands of the violent ones that sow terror and death,” and he appealed to the Pakistani authorities “to restore security and serenity to the religious minorities” in this predominantly Muslim country of almost 200 million people, among them an estimated 2.5 million Christians, of whom 1.2 million are Catholic.
He spoke about this terrible criminal act when he greeted thousands of pilgrims from many countries in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Monday, March 28, the day after the terrorist attack in the city of Lahore. That attack killed some 70 people and injured more than 300 others, according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference, which said that while most of the victims were Christians, many were also Muslims. (Text of the Commission’s statement below).
“Yesterday,” he said, “in central Pakistan the Holy Easter was bloodied by an abominable attack that led to the massacre of many innocent persons, for the most part families of the Christian minority, especially women and children, gathered in a public park to pass the Easter festivities with joy.”
“I wish to manifest my closeness to all who were hit by this vile and senseless crime, and I invite everyone to pray to the Lord for the numerous victims and for their dear ones,” the pope said.
Associated Press reported that a breakaway Pakistani faction of the militant Taliban group claimed responsibility for the attack, and added that Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, said a suicide bomber with the faction deliberately targeted the Christian community, near the children's rides in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore.
Pope Francis, who has received an official invitation from the President of Pakistan to visit the country, appealed to “the civil authorities and all the social components of this nation so that they make every effort to restore security and serenity to the population and, in particular, to the more vulnerable religious minorities.”
He repeated yet again that “violence and hateful killing only lead to suffering and destruction; respect and brotherhood are the only way to attain peace” and asked people to pray that at this Easter season that the Risen Lord "may arouse in us, in a yet stronger way, the prayer to God so that the hands of the violent ones, that sow terror and death, may be stopped and that love, justice and reconciliation may reign in the world,” he said.
Pope Francis concluded by asking everyone to “pray for the dead, for the members of the families of the Christian minorities and other ethnic groups in this dear country.” He then asked all present in the square to join him in reciting the Ave Maria, the Hail Mary, for all the victims.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops conference condemned the attack and reported that while Christians were targets of this attack, “yet so many of our Muslim Brothers, Sisters, Children and families who were also visiting the park on account of Sunday holiday fell victim to this brutal attack.” And, it added, “We pray for all the victims of this attack, as they were all Pakistanis.”
The following is the full text of the statement issued by the National Commission for Justice and Peace:
The city of Lahore once again had to face the harsh and tragic outbreak of the extremist forces in a deadly and brutal attack on innocent families visiting the park to celebrate the spring season and the festival of Easter. A few days back the government took an initiative to declare Holi (Hindu festival) and Easter (Christian festival) as holidays. While the non-Muslim community of Pakistan were rejoicing and appreciating the efforts of the government, on March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday, a suicide bomb in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park killed over 70 and left more than 300 injured. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar has claimed responsibility for the blast stating it had intentionally targeted the Christian Community on Easter. The National Commission for Justice and Peace, a rights based organization of Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, strongly condemns the tragic attack on innocent people in a public park.
His Lordship Bishop Dr. Joseph Arshad, Chairperson NCJP and Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf (Mani) National Director NCJP in a joint statement said that killing innocent people, in particular women and children, in the name of religion is unacceptable. While the motive was to target the Christians, yet so many of our Muslim Brothers, Sisters, Children and families who were also visiting the park on account of Sunday holiday fell victim to this brutal attack. We pray for all the victims of this attack, as they were all Pakistanis. While the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Army Chief have strongly condemned the attack, the commission calls upon the government to bring the perpetrators to justice and to tighten its measures for protection of all citizens including minorities and vulnerable communities.
They further stated that the government while addressing the extremist elements through the military operation needs to also address the root causes of this intolerance. It must conduct a large-scale operation to eliminate such elements that are prevalent in the province of Punjab and other parts of the country, which are operating and blatantly challenging the writ of the state.
Bishop Dr. Arshad and Fr. Yousaf further stated that the uncertainty of life is becoming more obvious in Pakistan. We thus pray to our Lord Jesus Christ that as a nation He may grant us wisdom, tolerance and peace. May God give strength to the families of the victims to endure the loss of their loved ones.