Moderator calls for strenuous peace building effort in Pakistan

Bishop Sammy Azariah
Bishop Samuel Azariah greets children at the dedication of St Josephs Church in Pandoki, Pakistan.

Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, has called for an intensified peace building effort in Pakistan in the wake of the terror attack that killed at least 72 people and injured more than 300 men women and children.

At least 29 children were killed when a bomb struck the Gulshan-e Iqbal Park in Lahore, where hundreds of Christian families were celebrating Easter.

Christians were the target of the attack, claimed by a Taliban group, but many Muslim men and women and children in the park were also among the dead and wounded.

The Moderator: Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison

Dr Morrison expressed his sorrow and called for an active peace building effort, saying:

"Christians are at risk in many countries today and Pakistan, sadly, is one of these. The prayers of all of us in the Church of Scotland join with those of millions around the world in holding before the God of grace all who have been injured and bereaved.

"Today, I have heard from friends and colleagues in Lahore who are coming to terms with the latest series of senseless killings. They have told me that we need to get beyond simply condemning the violence to building lasting peace. I agree whilst not underestimating for a moment how difficult and apparently impossible that task appears.

"The rise of religious persecution and, in particular, the persecution of Christians is deeply alarming and distressing."

"Last Sunday, Christians in every part of the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In Jesus we believe that love has overcome hatred and hope has conquered fear. In the midst of what is happening, we need to practise love and hope. It is the only certain way."

Worshippers in Pakistan Worshippers at St Johns Church in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Revd Samuel Robert Azariah, Bishop of Raiwind and current Moderator of the Church of Pakistan

Revd Samuel Robert Azariah, Bishop of Raiwind and Moderator of the Church of Pakistan is calling on Muslim leaders to take action to prevent further violence targeted at Christians.

Bishop Azariah called for practical actions to prevent further violence, saying he will challenge Muslim leaders to go beyond condemnations and take action. He will meet with Muslim leaders later this week.

"It is very tragic and very sad. The people of my community are in shock and they are in pain. The people feel very insecure because they were attacked in the middle of a festive celebration.

"Everybody is condemning the attacks but condemnation is not enough. Two months down the road it happens again. There has to be an action so we can find a way forward.

"In a period of one week we have had Brussels, Nigeria and Lahore. This is a wake-up call for the world.

"As a Christian I have not lost hope. I believe there is a way forward. There is a way forward to reconciliation, a way forward to life and a way forward to hope. But we must see action from our Muslim brothers and sisters to stop the violence that is being done in the name of Islam."

Bishop Sammy Azariah condemns the bombing Bishop Sammy Azariah condemned the bombing and called for action to prevent further attacks

Rev. Iain Cunningham

Rev Iain Cunningham, Convener of the World Mission Council and Sandy Sneddon the council's Asia Secretary had planned to be in Pakistan this week on Church business. Now, as Pakistan mourns its dead, they are working closely with Bishop Azariah to comfort the community and find a path forward.

Rev Iain Cunningham said:

"We are grieving with all those who grieve. We are glad to be here and to be able to represent not just the Church of Scotland but all the Church's ecumenical partners around the world. So it is good that we are here and we are certainly finding a welcome from the Christian community.

"Bishop Azariah has visited some of the people injured who are in hospitals. It is very harrowing to see how they have been hit by ball bearings and shrapnel. It is like a war zone.

"There is a feeling here that it is time to stop issuing routine messages of condemnation and really challenge what is going on in the community that is allowing people to commit these terrible attacks.

"We would support any efforts to work against this extremist violence."

Pakistan: More than 81,000 deaths since 2001

More than 81,000 people have been killed in Pakistan since the "War on Terror" began, according to a 2015 report, "Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the 'War on Terror" from three doctors' groups: International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Global Survival. (Download the report as a pdf file)

The report said more than half that total were civilians. Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan are the countries which have sustained the highest number of casualties in violence since 9/11.

Pakistan's Christian community numbers 3.8 million around 1.5 per cent of the country's population of 190 million. The Church of Scotland has for a number a years called for the Government of Pakistan to act to prevent the misuse of Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws which are frequently used against non-Muslim minority faith communities in the country.

All Saints Church, Peshawar  All Saints Church, Peshawar, was attacked by suicide bombers during a church service in 2013.

Rev Aftab Gohar

Rev Aftab Gohar, minister at Abbotsgrange Church in Grangemouth lost family members and friends in a 2013 terror attack on a church in Peshawar, Pakistan. He said he agrees with Bishop Azariah and he called on the Home Office to recognise Christians in Pakistan as victims of persecution.

"I am really very sad, and my prayers and thoughts are with all who were involved. I know this pain from my personal experience.

"There are so many incidents of violence against Christians in Pakistan and there is discrimination, not just generally, but discrimination under the law. Christians in Pakistan are second-class citizens.

"So I would really call on the Home Office and on governments in other countries to recognise that Christians in Pakistan are victims of persecution when they are consider applications for asylum."