05/12/2015, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Mothers and widows remember the attacks on Youhanabad churches

by Silent Thinker
On Mother's Day, Christ Church, one of the two places of worship attacked, organised a prayer ceremony. Naz Bano, whose son died to stop one of the terrorists, and Fozia, now alone to raise a two-year-old girl, tell their story.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Naz Bano remembers well the moment she woke up her son early, for his shift as a volunteer for the security detail protecting the local church, the day when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Christian colony where they live. "‘I have to stand at the gates during the Mass,' he told me the night before," Bano remembers.

Quietly crying, she sits on one of the pews of Christ Church in Youhanabad, home to Lahore’s 100,000 Christians. She was one of the parents who took part in a moving rally, two days ago, organised by the Church for Mother's Day.

Her son Aakash, 20, died on 15 March trying to prevent terrorists from entering St John’s Catholic Church. Seventeen people, including seven Muslims were killed, and more than 70 were injured in the explosion.

The posters of the "Christian martyrs" are now posted on the wall in front of Christ Church, in a dusty street of the city’s largest Christian ghetto.

Aakash is remembered for his brave deed. ‘This fearless young man defied the terrorists’ reads the caption on the poster.

A martyr’s mother

"I saw women kiss his coffin on the day he was buried,” said Naz Bano. “I never signed the registration form for him join the security detail, but he did it anyway. Perhaps it was God’s will. He prepared Aakash to save many lives. My three other children offered me their best wishes for this day, but he was not here."

On the Mother's Day rally, Rev Arshad Ashknaz began the sober ceremony with prayers dedicated to dead "children, sisters and relatives”. A Karachi NGO, the Deserving Students Educational Assistance Programme (DSEAP), handed out cheques worth 50,000 rupees (US$ 500), as a tribute to the mothers present. Some 25 people who lost relatives in the Youhanabad tragedy, including five widows, received the gift.

A widow remembers

Cuddling her two-year-old daughter, Fozia plans to save the money to pay for her child’s studies. Every time she visits Christ Church, memories of her husband James Sardar, 24, flood back. He, too, died near the entrance gate.

"He died the same day we got married,” she said. “He worked at a leather factory and was earning about 1,200 rupees (US$ 12) a month. The owners did not even give me his last wages."

Fozia still lives with her husband’s family. Now she sews women's clothing and earns just what she needs to buy milk for her daughter. "She recognises the face of her father on the posters,” she said.

“I still go to Mass to the same church and I pray for the terrorists to convert. Life in this country is a disaster."

Tragedy changed Youhanabad

Youhanabad churches have had to boost security after the March attacks. Some 20 young people patrol a 100-metre radius around Christ Church. Eight armed police officers are guarding the Anglican Church, which, along with the Catholic Church, is a category A security site.

Following clashes that broke out after the attack, the Lahore Bus Rapid Transit no longer stops at the Youhanabad station. As a result of this, residents are forced to pay a higher fee or walk (even in the summer heat) to reach the nearest station.

About 70 Christians are still in jail in Kot Lakhpat prison, 23 charged with murder for the lynching of two Muslim terrorist suspects a few minutes after the explosion.

"We have gone back ten years, Rev Arshad.  “At least ten Christians are still being sought and many families have left, afraid of the police, not the terrorists."

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