Past Tragedies Create Tension for Pakistani Christians Celebrating Lent
By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent
03/28/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – As Christian communities across the world observe Lent, individual Christians commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ though fasting or other commitments aimed at developing a closer relationship with God. For Pakistani Christians, the Lent season also brings with it the memories of recent tragedies.
Over the last few years, the Lent season in Pakistan has become a frightening time and a source of worry for many. High profile attacks on both Christian individuals and communities have marred previous Lent seasons in Pakistan. Because of this, Christians remain on high alert for potential bad news as they focus on spiritual discipline during Lent.
On March 2, 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, a renowned Christian leader and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, was assassinated. Bhatti was reportedly shot dead by two attackers associated with the Pakistani Taliban in Islamabad. He was reportedly assassinated for his public opposition to Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and his open support for Asia Bibi. To this day, no one has been brought to justice for Bhatti’s assassination.
On March 9, 2013, a mob of enraged Muslims attacked a primarily Christian neighborhood in Lahore called Joseph Colony after a Christian resident was accused of committing blasphemy. The mob torched hundreds of houses, desecrated several churches, and looted valuables. No one has been held responsible for this destruction despite abundant photo and video evidence of the attack.
On March 15, 2015, two churches in the Youhanabad neighborhood of Lahore were attacked by suicide bombers as they held Sunday worship services. Thanks to the brave intervention of Christian security guards at St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church in Youhanabad, the bombers were kept out of the churches where hundreds were worshiping. This limited the death toll to 17, but the explosions left more than 70 others injured.
On March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday, a suicide bomber attacked the main entrance of Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore. When the Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attack, they claimed that they chose to attack the park because Christians were celebrating Easter there. As a result of the blast, 75 people were killed, including 22 Christians. More than 300 others were injured.
“It seems that extremists, by design, target Christians on their religious eves,” Ilyas Bhatti, a Christian community leader, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “We have also witnessed such attacks in previous years during the Christmas season. However, attacks during Lent or on Easter reflects a continuity of religious intolerance against Christians.”
Ilyas Bhatti went on to urge Pakistan’s authorities to provide adequate protection and security to the Christian minority this Lent and Easter season. He also demanded that steps be taken to ensure Christians’ equal rights as proud members of Pakistan’s society.
As Christians across the world continue to participate in various Lent activities, ICC calls on its followers to remember and pray for their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ in Pakistan.