03/15/2015, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Church attacks: we are already on the road to Calvary, says Lahore bishop

by Kamran Chaudhry
Survivors told AsiaNews their stories. Patras Bhatti, a driver who was part of the security detail at the Catholic Church, said the free service they provide is meant "to protect the Church attendants and only God will reward us. Perhaps He saved me to die someday on duty." After the attacks, anti-Taliban demonstrations broke out across Pakistan. Christian schools and colleges will stay closed tomorrow.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Patras Bhatti was overseeing the security check at the entrance of St. John's Catholic Church this morning when he heard gun shots outside.

"Seconds later the blue door of the steel gate came flying inside with a blast. The echo still resounds in my head. I can't hear properly from my right ear", said Bhatti, 48, whose maroon shirt was stained red with blood and bits of human flesh clinging at the back.

"We had a small committee of 12 parishioners who were stationed at the gate and in the street outside. It's a free service to protect the Church attendants and only God will reward us. Perhaps He saved me to die some day on duty". 

A driver by profession, Bhatti lost two team members at the Church gate when a suicide bomber tried to enter the building this morning's Mass in Youhanabad, Lahore. Another blast outside Christ Church (Raiwand Diocese Church of Pakistan) killed four security guards, including a woman, in Pakistan's biggest Christian ghetto.

Media reports say 14 people died and 80 are wounded in the blasts, which was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban. Nationwide protests started as news channels showed graphic images after the blasts, which triggered waves of despair among minority Christians, who are often persecuted on blasphemy charges. Roads leading to Youhanabad were blocked as angry Christian youth held anti-government protests and damaged the Metro Bus stations.

"Donate blood at the hospitals", announced a sombre faced man holding a microphone at the residence of the clergyman in charge of Christ Church. Outside, shattered glass from neighbouring buildings, laid on the street crowded with protestors and prayers groups. Several mothers rushed to him asking for news about their children who are still unaccounted for after the attack.

According to eyewitnesses, two attackers were caught by the enraged moms, pelted with stones and burnt alive on the road at the entrance to Youhanabad. Their charred remains were removed and roads were sprayed with water around 5 pm.

Moon Ashknaz was inside the double-story Church packed with about 1,500 worshippers when panic started. "This is the blood of the leader of our security team", said Ashknaz pointing to scarlet stains on the floor near the walkthrough gate. "There was panic inside but we led the parishioners outside, towards the school playground, at the back and through an emergency exit."  

In the afternoon, Archbishop Sebastian Shah of Lahore along with a group of four senior priests visited both Churches and met the witnesses to the blast. "Time and again we had been demanding tighter security measures, especially during the Sunday service.  The government has failed to protect us. All religious groups have to meet the challenge and raise their voice against this kind of attack", he told media at the St. John Catholic Church compound.

"We salute the young martyrs who prevented the militants from entering the Church building. The wounds of Peshawar Church blasts are still fresh; we are already on the road to Calvary. All Church schools and colleges will remain closed tomorrow".

Bishop Shah demanded that the church attacks be investigated by military courts. The civilian courts are generally afraid to handle such cases, he said.

Last September, Christians marked the first anniversary of the suicide bombings at the All Saints Church, Peshawar in which 127 people died and hundreds were wounded.

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