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Church attack: A community mourns the dear departed

Updated March 16, 2015

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Pakistani Christian girls mourn over a family member who was killed from a suicide bombing attack near two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Suicide bombers exploded themselves near two churches in the eastern city of Lahore on Sunday as worshippers were gathered inside, killing at least a dozen people, officials said, in the latest attack against religious minorities in the country. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
Pakistani Christian girls mourn over a family member who was killed from a suicide bombing attack near two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Suicide bombers exploded themselves near two churches in the eastern city of Lahore on Sunday as worshippers were gathered inside, killing at least a dozen people, officials said, in the latest attack against religious minorities in the country. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

LAHORE: The lanes of Youhanabad are always busy but this Sunday, the traffic is not of the usual kind. Bewilderment, fear and anger mark the faces of its residents, and although it seems everyone is outside their homes, in one of the houses, Zaid Yousuf alias Goga, president of the local traders’ association, is being mourned.

The screams of his widow and two daughters echo within the walls, and his brother relates how it happened.

“When the terrorists came to the Roman Catholic Church, three boys asked them to identify themselves,” says Riaz Fazal, his eyes red rimmed, and his face swollen from crying. “They shot two of the boys point blank. But Goga intercepted them, and pushed them back, and in that time, a terrorist blew himself up.”

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Goga was martyred, he says, defending the lives of 1,000 people inside the church who were having their last prayers of Sunday Mass.

Youhanabad is a major locality of the Christian population and there are several churches big and small, but its residents complain that not enough security has been provided to them especially on Sundays when they gather for Mass.

People say that after attacking the Roman Catholic Church, two of the terrorists attempted to abscond but the mob caught them and beat them to death before burning them. Till late afternoon, their bodies lay burning on the main road, and the public was taking videos and photographs of the gruesome scene.

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“At one point before being beaten the police had caught them,” relates a local woman. “But they kept cursing us saying, ‘you Christians ought to be killed in blasts everyday’. It was almost as if they were inviting the mob.”

Others especially those outside the church complain that there were only three policemen for security measures but even two of them were in a nearby shop watching the cricket match.

Ayub Sardar, a security volunteer for this church, says the police personnel are never enough for them and they always have to take security measures themselves. “It is easy to identify outsiders because we know our community,” he says.

The blue gate of the church has been blown off and now community volunteers have formed a human chain, and propped up ladders and rods in order to stop the crowd from coming in. Yet people are still coming to pay homage to their place of worship.

The other church that was attacked a few moments before this one faced slightly less damage.

“We had an iron gate that luckily stopped the men from coming in,” says Reverend Irshad Ashknaz of the Christ Church. “But there were attempts to first shoot down the church’s gate, and when that did not happen, they went to the second gate which is the entrance to the church’s school and tried to blow that up. They had come on a motorcycle.”

“What more security can we provide for ourselves?” asks the vicar. “We have barbed wires on the wall, since after the APS attack, and that helped,” he says.

Angry residents chant slogans against the government especially the chief minister. “This is CM Shahbaz Sharif’s constituency,” says one of them. “Neither the CM nor any of the MPAs and MNAs including Shehla Tariq and Shakil Marcus Khokar from this area had done any kind of development work here, nor do they come to visit.”

“We are in a quandary because we are given representatives who do no work, and on the other side, we cannot elect our own because minority representatives are always chosen for us. Almost all the basic facilities have been given to us by our churches, otherwise we have no dispensaries, no health facilities, no access to clean drinking water or a good sewerage system. Even the roads are rough and untarred,” says Pastor Javed.

“The youth is not supported by the government through jobs. When they go for work they are only offered the work of a sweeper.”

An angry woman curses the police saying they often harass young boys on the pretext of drinking. “I would like to know where has all the money gone which these representatives show that they have spent on development work here?”

Sadly, the biggest supporter of the ruling PML-N was Goga himself. “He used to ask us to vote for the PML-N and we always listened to him but what is the party doing now that they are in power. We cannot even feel safe in our own homes”

“The Christian community is degraded, disgraced and pushed to the wall,” says Zafar Iqbal, Goga’s nephew, who is waiting for his uncle’s body to come. “It took a person from our own community after all to protect us. Because of him, 1,000 people have been saved today. This is the biggest sacrifice.”

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2015

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