Pope urges to stop persecuting Christians after bombings

(AGI) Lahore (Pakistan), March 15 - Another suicide bombing hastargeted two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, killing 14 peoplewho were attending mass and injuring another 78, 30 of whom arein critical conditions. Responsibility for the attack wasclaimed by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a fundamentalist groupassociated with the Talibans and which is competing with theIslamic State (ISIS) in recruiting young people in the south ofthe country. A third attack against another place of worshipfailed. The attacks in the capital of the eastern PunjabState occurred only a few minutes apart and targeted theCatholic St. John's

(AGI) Lahore (Pakistan), March 15 - Another suicide bombing hastargeted two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, killing 14 peoplewho were attending mass and injuring another 78, 30 of whom arein critical conditions. Responsibility for the attack wasclaimed by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a fundamentalist groupassociated with the Talibans and which is competing with theIslamic State (ISIS) in recruiting young people in the south ofthe country. A third attack against another place of worshipfailed. The attacks in the capital of the eastern PunjabState occurred only a few minutes apart and targeted theCatholic St. John's church and the nearby Anglican ChristChurch, which were crowded with 800 and more than 1,000 peoplerespectively. The death toll in the Catholic church would havebeen much worse without the intervention of two police officersand young volunteer workers on guard at the door, whosacrificed their lives in order to block the suicide bombers. The massacre took place in Youhanabad, a working classdistrict devoted to St. John, which hosts a large Christiancommunity. After the attacks, a 4,000-strong crowd took tothe streets seeking revenge. Two men suspected of beingaccomplices of the suicide bombers were lynched by the mob andtheir bodies burned. Armed with clubs, the protesters destroyedseveral shops and damaged cars driving by. The mob fought backthe police officers and local politicians who rushed to thescene and accused the government of not acting resolutelyenough in defending Christians. Christian protest marcheswere also organised in Karachi, Peshawar, Multan and Quetta. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was born in Punjab,condemned the bombings and "instructed the authorities toguarantee the safety of people and protect their property". Christians are four million in Pakistan, only 2 percent ofits 180 million inhabitants, most of whom are Muslim. Themembers of the Christian minority are mostly poor andmarginalised and have been increasingly targeted by attacks,persecutions and accused of blasphemy. Pope Francis learnedof the attack "with much pain", he told the crowd of pilgrimsand tourists gathered for the Angelus prayer this Sunday in St.Peter's Square. The Pope said: "These are Christian churches:Christians are being persecuted. Our brothers' and sisters'blood is shed only because they are Christians. As I assure youof my prayers for the victims and their families, I ask theLord, I beseech the Lord, source of all good, for the gift ofpeace and harmony to this country." Concluding his appeal, PopeFrancis prayed "That this persecution against Christians, whichthe world tries to hide, might end, and that there be peace." Punjab is the wealthiest and most densely populated provinceof Pakistan. Violence has escalated in the region after thegovernment failed to initiate peace talks with the Talibanslast year. (AGI) . .