03/14/2016, 18.24
PAKISTAN
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A year later, Church and survivors remember the Lahore attacks

by Kamran Chaudhry

On 15 March 2015, a group of Taliban carried out two suicide bombings, killing 14 people and injuring more than 70. A survivor remembers the first attack, which sounded like the explosion of “a gas cylinder." Today 40 volunteers defend the St John Church. For Islamist leader, “Christians deserve credit for not turning the attacks into a sectarian issue".

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Survivors from last year’s Taliban attack against two churches in Youhanabad, Lahore’s Christian neighbourhood, marked the first anniversary with prayers and tributes.

The actual day is tomorrow, but Christians commemorated the event yesterday in a memorial Mass for the victims. Lahore Archbishop of Lahore Sebastian Shah led the service and handed out awards to the Christian volunteers who still provide security to the compound.

At the end of the liturgy, the prelate had a booklet titled ‘Unforgettable sacrifice’ handed out to those present, describing the stories of the youth and priests involved in the Youhanabad tragedy.

On 15 March 2015, a group of Pakistani extremists from Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an affiliate of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, attacked two churches, St John Catholic Church, and Christ Church, which is Protestant, which are only a few hundred metres from one another.

At the time of the explosions, some 800 and 1,100 people were inside them. In all, 14 people were killed and more than 70 injured. Sikandar Masih was one of them. He survived by a miracle.

"I was in the courtyard of the St John Church when I heard the suicide attack at the nearby church. I thought a gas cylinder had exploded. After a few seconds, I heard gunfire coming from the street. Someone then shouted to close the door. . . It all happened so suddenly. Finally, I saw the bomber approaching the entrance."

Masih was able to close the iron door of the church, saving many of those inside, but he was wounded in the leg. Another security guard, Akash Bashir, pushed him away whilst he himself staggered. "He was afraid of the explosion, but he refused to run away," remembers Masih, who spent three days in the hospital, and now has an artificial eye and an ear.

Although his leg was wounded by 16 ball bearings from the bomb, the Catholic man is one of the Church’s 40 volunteer security guards. "I am out of work but I found a new dignity,” he said. “We protect the bishop and other priests, staying close to them during their pastoral visits ".

The day of the attack, the volunteers were unarmed; now they have guns and ammunition.

During the Mass, Mgr Shah prayed with the faithful for the 42 Christians still detained in prison following the lynching of two suspected terrorists.

Ameer ul Azeem, information secretary for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of Pakistan’s main Islamist parties, asked local Christians to "show more tolerance."

"The riots and the damage to the bus station were totally wrong,” he told AsiaNews. “Terrorists have targeted mosques, churches, cinemas and markets. Terrorism may have declined, but its effects will be long term.” Nevertheless, “Christians deserve credit for not turning the attacks into a sectarian matter".

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