Pope and world churches head appeal to Pakistan to ensure safety from fanatics

(Photo: REUTERS / Khuram Parvez)A soldier escorts schoolchildren after they were rescued from the Army Public School that is under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, December 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen in Pakistan took hundreds of students and teachers hostage on Tuesday in a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar, military officials said. More than 100 school pupils were killed along with teachers in the attack.

In a March of madness, Pope Francis and the head of the World Council of Churches have once again condemned brutal and cowardly attacks on innocent people, this time on Easter Sunday in Pakistan where a suicide bomber's blast killed at least 70 people in a children's park.

In St. Peter's Square, the Pope on March 28 called for pilgrims in St. Peter's Square to pause for a moment of prayer for the victims of the terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan, calling the attack the day before a "reprehensible" and "senseless crime" saying it "bloodied" Easter.

Dearly suicide-bombing attacks, carried out by perpetrators claiming to represent Islam, killing many people, have already been carried out during March in Turkey, Belgium and Iraq.

The World Council of Churches' general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, called the attack shocking and brutal, urging Pakistan's government to ensure that its communities can be better protected against fanatics.

Pope Francis said, "I appeal to the civil authorities and to all the social components of [Pakistan] to do everything possible to restore security and peace to the population and, in particular, to the most vulnerable religious minorities," the Pope continued.

"I repeat, once again, that violence and murderous hatred lead only to pain and destruction; respect and fraternity are the only way to achieve peace," Francis said.

The suicide bomber killed more than 70 people and wounded more than 300. This was the second attack within two years singling out children.

Pakistan is still scarred by its deadliest ever extremist attack in which Taliban gunmen killed more than 150 people at a school in Peshawar in 2014, the majority of them students.

A splinter group of the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack that targeted Christian families celebrating Easter Sunday in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore. The victims of this attack were predominantly children and women, and included Muslims as well as members of the Christian community.

"This attack is particularly shocking, in the first place because there seems to have been a clear intention deliberately to target young children who were simply enjoying themselves in the freedom of the park," said the WCC's Tveit.

"Second, the timing of the attack also appears to have been intended to strike against Pakistan's vulnerable Christian minority on one of the most sacred days in the Christian calendar."


The evening explosion went off near children's rides and a parking area in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in the eastern city of Lahore, the historic center of Christianity in Pakistan. The area was crowded with people celebrating the Easter holidays, and many families were leaving the park when the blast occurred.

In March 2015, Pope Francis had called for the world to stop hiding persecution of Christians while condemning two attacks during Sunday services by suicide bombers on a Catholic church and an Anglican church in Pakistan that killed 17 people and injured scores.

The government of Punjab province, where the attack took place, declared three days mourning.

Christians are a tiny minority where Muslims make up 96 percent of Pakistan's population of almost 200 million people, accounting for an estimated 1.6 percent of the population.

They have often been targeted by people who use the country's blasphemy laws against Islam, which carry a maximum death penalty sentence, to target them.

Paksitan's government has often been criticized for allowing Islamic schools or madrassas to carry on preaching hatred and extremism.

In his statement Tveit underlined stressed that "The principle of freedom of religion and belief for all people must be affirmed and protected in Pakistan, and throughout the world, as a fundamental ethical and legal responsibility of government.

"Any reference to violence in the name of religion or motivated by religion is particularly unacceptable and dangerous."

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