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.