PAKISTAN – Churches ordered to enhance security measures against terrorist attacks
Again and again horrific terrorist attacks are taking place in Pakistan. Christians are not the only victims of the terrorists, but Christian churches and other institutions are particularly at risk. One of the places that has suffered most in this respect has been the archdiocese of Lahore in northeast Pakistan. In March 2008 Sacred Heart Cathedral was seriously damaged, along with several Catholic schools. 30 people were killed and almost 250 injured. The bookshop of the Sisters of St Paul, which stands on the same site, was also almost completely destroyed. Then at Christmas of the same year, in another planned attack on the cathedral during Midnight Mass, a bomb detonated prematurely so that disaster was prevented only at the last minute.
On 15 March 2015, on a Sunday morning, two bombs went off almost simultaneously in Youhanabad, a Christian quarter of Lahore – one outside a Catholic church and one outside a Protestant church, in both of which hundreds of people had gathered to pray. Around 20 people were killed and 80 people injured. The fact that more people were not killed in the Catholic St John‘s Church was thanks only to the quick witted courage of a young man of 20, who managed to bring down the attacker, who was wearing a suicide belt, before he succeeded in getting into the church. The attacker then blew himself up, killing the young man at the same time. By this courageous act of self-sacrifice this young man undoubtedly saved numerous lives, since there were at least 600 people inside the church.
In 2016 on Easter Sunday suicide bombers attacked again, this time inside a park in Lahore where hundreds of Christians had gathered to celebrate Easter with their families after attending Holy Mass. The attack took place close to a children‘s playground. Over 70 people were killed, including many children.
Now the Pakistani government is demanding that those buildings that are particularly at risk – including churches and Church-based institutions – increase their own security measures. If they cannot meet these requirements they can be closed down. One such institution that is particularly threatened is the seminary of St Francis Xavier in Lahore, which is also in the Youhanabad quarter of the city that was targeted the previous year in the two suicide attacks on Christian churches. The seminary has already received a number of threats. At present there are 73 seminarians from all over the country studying and living there, as well as 23 religious brothers who attend lectures at the seminary during the daytime – in all almost a hundred young men and future priests.
The seminary urgently needs to increase the height of the surrounding perimeter wall and repair previously existing damage to it. The walls also must be protected with barbed wire and a watchman has to be employed. If the seminary does not do this, then there is a danger not only that terrorists will break into the grounds but also that the government may close down the seminary for failing to implement the required security measures. The rector of the seminary, Father Asif John writes “The lack of security is both a challenge and a threat to us. Our seminary is dependent on the help of kind people. We do not have the resources to complete such a project.” ACN has promised 20,000 Euros for the required security measures.