On September 22, 2013, two suicide bombers attacked All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan shortly after the conclusion of the Sunday worship service. Considered the single deadliest attack on Christians in Pakistan’s history, the attack resulted in the deaths of over 100 Christians and the maiming of over 150 more. Now, one year after the attack, many Christians in Peshawar continue to struggle due to the bombing and persecution in general.
9/23/2014 Pakistan (CSW) – “This has been the year of the minority church, struggling for identity and survival.” These are the words of Bishop Humphrey Peters from Peshawar in Pakistan, one year after a suicide bombing on All Saints Church claimed over 100 lives.
We spoke to Bishop Humphrey about the year since the most deadly attack on a church in recent history, when nearly 100 people were killed as 600 Christians were gathering for lunch in the courtyard of the church. Two suicide attackers with bombs strapped to them, laden with ball-bearings to kill and maim as many as possible, ran through the gates and blew themselves up. Dozens were killed instantly, and over 150 worshippers were injured.
Yet the worst terrorist attack on Christians in Asia only got a minor mention in international news, as millions were fixed on the unfolding three-day attack on Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
In the aftermath of the bombing, many around the world pledged help, support and medical care to victims, leading many of the survivors to expect to be flown overseas for healthcare, as had happened in the case of Malala Yusufzai, a schoolgirl shot by the Taliban in the same region.
A year later, many are still waiting for help – even attention – in Pakistan’s restless north-western region, of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Many Christians have since decided to leave the area because of the dangers they face.
Bishop Humphrey Peters, leading the church in one of the most volatile dioceses in the Anglican Communion, finds faith in a sovereign God even in the midst of persecution.
Q: In the year since the Peshawar bombing, what kind of work have you been focusing on?
A: Pastoral support has been important in taking care of the patients still on beds, and trying to develop a church house for the orphans and widows – planned with the promised federal government compensation. It has been a long struggle for justice and compensation that still continues.
Q: How has your work changed since the Peshawar bombing?
A: There is much more concern about security of churches and Christian institutions in the region: it is very expensive to keep the security guards and we are still begging for justice, struggling to maintain identity and survival.
Q: Reports indicated that All Saints church was packed full the week after the bombing – why do you think this was?
A: We encouraged people to be strong in their faith – and as the leadership and clergy, we were personally inside the church for two Sundays consecutively after the bombing.
Q: Why do some Christians choose to stay in Peshawar and not leave despite the threats to their safety?
A: Many in our community are marginalized and weak; they really have no choice.
The vast majority of Pakistan’s Christians are from a Punjabi Dalit (‘untouchable’) background, and have most of the cleaning and ‘manual scavenging’ (cleaning human waste) jobs. ‘Mai Masihi hoon; ye Pakistan hai’ (‘I am a Christian and this is Pakistan’, ie ‘What more can I expect?’) is a local adage which shows the apathy and hopelessness of a community that has suffered under the oppressive caste system for centuries.