Terrorists shred faithful at generic Pakistani church

Yesterday was Kenya and, of course, the killing there isn’t over yet.

Today, there is another blast of a deadly form of Jihad — this time in Pakistan. Here is the top of an early, but quite complete, New York Times report:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A suicide attack on a historic Christian church in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 78 people on Sunday in one of the deadliest attacks on the Christian minority in Pakistan in years.

The attack occurred as worshipers left All Saints Church in the old quarter of the regional capital, Peshawar, after a service on Sunday morning. Up to 600 people had attended the service and were leaving to receive free food being distributed on the lawn outside when two explosions ripped through the crowd.

“As soon as the service finished and the food was being distributed, all of a sudden we heard one explosion, followed by another,” said Azim Ghori, a witness.

Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, who arrived in Peshawar on Sunday evening, said that 78 people had been killed, including 34 women and 7 children. “Such an attack on women and children is against humanity,” Mr. Khan said.

I don’t know about you, but I immediately wanted to know more details about that “historic” church — especially it’s full name. Was this a Catholic church? The term “historic,” in the context of Pakistan and India, suggested that this might be a church founded long ago by Church of England missionaries.

Later in the story, there was this hint in that direction:

All Saints Church is one of the oldest in Peshawar and was built during the British colonial era. It is at Kohati Gate in the city’s old quarter, where numerous militant attacks have occurred in recent years, mostly targeting Muslims.

With a few clicks I was able to learn that this is, in fact, an historically Anglican parish that is now part of the ecumenical Church of Pakistan, which is similar to the Church of India. The key is that the worship and roots are Anglican.

So far, I don’t think anyone has that detail and many readers might assume that this is a Catholic parish. Of course, this hellish tragedy is is a major story no matter what name is on the church sign in front of this historic building — which includes architectural details similar to a mosque.

However, this is one of the first questions that will many readers will ask, wanting to know if these martyrs are part of their own communion.

An early Associated Press report has similar vague language:

The attack occurred as hundreds of worshipers were coming out of the church in the city’s Kohati Gate district after services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn, said a top government administrator, Sahibzada Anees. …

Survivors wailed and hugged one another. The white walls of the All Saints Church were pocked with holes caused by ball bearings or other metal objects contained in the bombs to cause maximum damage. Blood stained the floor and was spattered on the walls.

The Times report is very strong in placing this blast in the context of other violence in Pakistan, with radicals from Sunni Islam striking out against a host of minority religious groups. Once again, this is not strictly Islam vs. the church. That’s a crucial theme, but the details on the ground are more complicated.

The attack coincided with a broader wave of attacks on religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims this year.

In March, a Muslim mob swarmed through a Christian neighborhood in the eastern city of Lahore, burning two churches and more than 100 houses. Christians also frequently find themselves accused of blasphemy under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws.

The attacks are mostly orchestrated by Sunni extremist militant groups, although some have also been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

What a weekend. What a week. What a month or so, in terms of escalating violence against ancient churches in Syria, Egypt, Africa and the rest of the troubled part of world that human-rights scholars call the “ring of fire.” Christians will want to pray for the dead and the dying. Everyone will want to keep close watch, to see if the mainstream press (and the U.S. State Department) take these horrors seriously.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    That was one of my first thoughts–that it was a Catholic Church that was bombed. Especially with the name of the Church: All Saints. I think the story should have pointed out the full information.
    On the other hand, it really makes no difference which Christians are being murdered–in a sense we are all “under the gun.”
    This very week-end I gave a sermon at Mass about how we Catholics should pay attention to what is happening to our brother and sister Christians around the world: Evangelical pastors rotting in Iranian jails, Ancient Coptic churches being destroyed, Syrian Orthodox in Maloula, Syria being threatened to become Moslem, Catholic Chaldeans in Iraq being shot while at Mass, and the war of terror against Christian Pakistanis.
    As a minimum we should pray for them. then at least tell our politicians and the media that WE DO care about what is happening to Christians around the world.

    • Reg Smith

      Hello DeaconJMB,

      I’d just like to add a note to your excellent comment.

      Re prayer: One thing that has especially been on my mind for the past year or so, while reading/listening to the news, is my concern for the state of the souls of those who die in these kinds of attacks, those dying in natural disasters, those dying in the womb, etc …
      I try to offer up a brief prayer for those we hear of. (Usually the sign of the Cross, “In the name of …”).
      How many people die daily in a state of mortal sin? There are SO many with nobody to pray for their immortal souls!
      Let us always remember to pray for the dead as they no longer have a chance at salvation. As you know, their eternal destiny has already been determined. Hopefully many are being purified after death … let us pray for God’s mercy on those souls!

      Dominus tecum,
      Reg.

  • Danske

    Attacks on the churches and Christians of Pakistan have gone on for years, but there is likely an uptick on these, esp. in the Pashtun homeland areas of Pakistan, as Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Paktun administrative tribal region. However, has the mainstream media ever paid much attention to these atrocities over the past couple of decades? No, rarely, if ever, a blip on their screen. The reason? It’s because Christians are being killed, and not other religious groups. If this had been “Christian” terrorists attacking a mosque, there would be trumpeted in the mainstream and throughout the world, with mass demonstrations by Muslims (and leftists).

  • deann47

    Shall parse here: These acts of mass destruction [ongoing attacks against churches, Christians, Christian institutions and businesses across Egypt, bombing
    attacks in Iraq against Our Lady of Salvation and other churches, the same in Syria, Nigeria, now Kenya, on and on] are atrocities. Distinguish that from the definition of tragedy. Atrocity a far more appropriate term. Judging from secular press reports, apparently not considered the same magnitude as mere “tragedies.” In addition, these read as if they’re one-off acts of extreme violence, “tragic,” yes, but not connected. I don’t see any indication in these reports that they’re in any way part of a trend. A concerted refusal to connect the dots? 2 Cor. 3 case of blindness, hence only Christians watching the walls? Though for all this talk of newsroom diversity, only a handful of Christian gatekeepers in the business [I left daily newspapers 20 years ago] who think this merits thorough reporting using the same criteria used for causes dear to their hearts — such as abortion rights and homosexual marriage? Jesus told us that the time is coming when whoever kills His followers will think they’re doing God a favor. Really shouldn’t be shocked. But I am.

  • Kevin Spencer

    These series of stories, aside from the large holes in identifying what bombed which, also seems to fail several other quizzes from their Journalism 101 class. Why the great distinction on the specific Islamic sects but a vague lumping of Christian churches and faiths without distinction? What are these victims and law enforcement doing to stop this? Why aren’t these particular religious adherents fighting back? If they are, how? These questions and more point to a significant religious ghost that’s continually haunting most stories like this. Christian teaching instructs their followers not to automatically retaliate, even to suffer quietly sometimes. A savvy Godbeat reporter could reference the last time Christianity weaponized itself after 400 years of Muslim invasions: the 1st Crusades. They could also note what happened when the later Crusades seemed to forget their faith principles and thought only territorially. Again, why don’t they fight back, or who’s fighting for them? Why do these Muslims feel justified in such attacks? Things like this seem glossed over and over.

  • ortcutt

    “However, this is one of the first questions that will many readers will ask, wanting to know if these martyrs are part of their own communion.”

    I felt physically sick reading that sentence. Who cares whether it was an Anglican church, Catholic church, or whether they part of this or that communion? I’m sometimes amazed by the level of tribalism within Christianity.

    • n_coast

      Your main point here is correct, but having a connection to the victims brings it closer. It is like having known people who died in the WTC or on flight 800. The atrocity would be no less if the victims had been non- christian.

  • juliusstahl

    So glad to know I wasn’t the only one wanting to know what denomination the church was. I find this very annoying particularly in relationship to Syria. It makes a difference whether churches and Christians being attacked are Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Antiochian Orthodox, Melkite, or Latin-rite Catholic.

  • R Vogel

    “However, this is one of the first questions that will many readers will ask, wanting to know if these martyrs are part of their own communion.”
    Wow – I really hope that is not true. Why would it matter?


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