|Shamim Masih interviews Bishop Humphrey Sarfraz John in presence of Rev Ijaz.|
ISLAMABAD: On September 22, Christians of "All Saint's Church, Peshawar, were busy eating food in the Church courtyard after their regular church service. Suddenly two suicide bombers entered the courtyard and detonated incendiary devices attached to their persons shouting out Allah Akbar. As a result of the explosions 126 Christian worshippers were killed and 166 were wounded. The assailants were Jihadist suicide bombers linked to the Taliban. This was not the first attack on the small Christian community in Pakistan. Nor do we believe this is a complete list of victims, but it should be more than enough to alarm the world, and especially, I would have thought, the Christian world. But, alas, with a few notable exceptions, there has been an uncomfortable and disappointing media silence.
Malala Yousaf Zai, 16, was gunned down last year at her school after angering the Taliban with her courageous and outspoken pleas for girls to be educated. But what about the sacrifices of Soni Samson, a Sunday school teacher and her more than 20 Sunday school students at All Saints Church, Peshawar? As a Christian journalist and humanitarian, I find this silence unfathomable. They real shame is these victims knew that the church had received several threats in recent months, and had asked for increased security from Pakistan Authorities, which had been declined. They are martyrs in every sense of the word.
The attack on church was an act of cowardly violence that brutally targeted innocent Christians. My heart bleeds with pain and agony, in what I view as the most atrocious form of suicidal killing attempts. It is the country’s responsibility to protect its citizens and tackle the growing militancy and extremism. Pakistan is not for Muslims only, the Christian community believe we are true Pakistanis, we have sacrificed much for this motherland and were present here before the Muslim's as the Disciple Thomas visited Taxilla ands set up a church there. It is the height of hypocrisy for our Muslim leadership to criticise Western countries for perceived injustices, while they allow the continuing discrimination and slaughter of Christians in their own lands, if a mosque can be built in Paris, surely a church should not be banned in Riyadh.
I was instructed to visit Peshawar as soon as I heard the news and arrived only hours after the incident. On my arrival I found pieces of human body hanging on trees in the church courtyard and other gory remains. A full account can be found here:
On 6th October 2013, I returned again as per instructions of Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), to chart progress and see how we could further provide aid to help the victims.
According to Pastor Ijaz - who led the Church service on the day of the explosion, around 500 Christian families are reside in the surroundings of All Saints Church Peshawar. The Christian residents are poor and marginalised and employed by the local municipality of Peshawar. Most of them work as sanitary workers, and labourers working under extremely unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Some work as teachers, nurses and very few hold higher ranking positions. Of the blast he said;
"I was inside the church meeting hall with some parishioners, all of sudden we heard the blast sound and rushed towards the outside courtyard. We found people crying and dead bodies covered the ground. All able-bodied members of the church helped get injured victims to the local hospitals - many of them had to fight the grief of finding dead members of their family while doing so."
Bishop Humphrey Sarfraz Peter said;
"I was in another city and rushed to help as soon as I was notified about the incident. I was shocked to my core when I saw the huge human loss, it was the worst incident to hit any parish in our diocese during my tenure."
According to Bishop Humphrey the Provincial Government promised to pay Rs. 500,000 (equivalent to £2940) to the dead victims' families and Rs. 200,000 to any victims with a severe injury. He confirmed that so far nothing had been received.
I spoke with many local residents many of whom where eyewitnesses to the awful tragedy. Sajid Masih said;
"On visiting different people there I found that many injured victims could have been saved. Many died due to the lack of emergency treatment being provided without upfront fees and a lack of available staff at hospitals that were manned poorly due to Sunday being a "day off" for many staff?. Many victims’ relatives informed me that the hospital management had placed their loved ones in coffins, without notifying them that their relatives had died. Worse still those who had survived were extremely difficult to trace due to poor administration, meaning that some families missed an opportunity to say a last goodbye to family members who died less immediately."
In a rather macabre incident two victims who had mistakenly been placed in coffins, were released near the graveyard after mourners heard them crying for help form the coffins. This malpractice has caused great ire amongst the Peshawar Christian community.
The two visits have been immensely difficult. I have seen victims with fractured bones and holes puncturing the bodies of others, where ball bearings had been included in the incendiary device. I have seen numerous burn injuries of differing degrees and limbs missing from many victims. Some victims have large swelling of their whole body due to the high pressure of the bomb explosives and numerous internal injuries.
Many of the injured now purchase their medicines from the local bazaar without any
financial assistance. Many of the medicines are incorrect or simply black market products not worthy of the label medicine. Hospital management teams are discharging those still suffering despite the dire need for continued professional medical assistance.
The critically injured victims require urgent medical care and need to be maintained in a professional hospital. There are orphaned children who are now being cared for by their relatives. These relatives cannot continue to provide for the extra mouths without assistance for any long term. The sad truth is as good intentioned as these family members are now, when push comes to shove they can barely fend for themselves. I am afraid these children will become long term victims forced to work as their school fees will not be affordable, they will certainly not attain any higher education without parental support. Already some children have been put to work and it is hard to ascertain whether or not they were working or studying before this incident.
So far the BPCA have helped fund coffins for victims, have provided emergency food and some medical expenses. We will continue this work and seek to place those who are critically ill back in hospital. We will use our donations to provide food to victims who have lost their main household earner and will be providing advice on rehabilitation, Christian orphanages and counselling as necessary. Our team of helpers are currently praying with victims and providing a listening ear, whilst providing pathways to professional help. we intend to pay the school fees for children who have lost their main breadwinner, will pay for artificial limbs as necessary and will support families who opt to care for a relatives children financially and with advice. We will be working with Bishop Humphrey to secure the compensation due to victims via the Provincial Government.
|Victim Khalid who was chief steward at the meal lost his life.|
|Shamim and Bishop Humphrey by the list of the dead maintained in the church.|
|Shamim and Bishop Humphrey by list of the injured.|
|A memorial banner with some images of early identified victims.|
|Shamim Masih by the location of the first bombing which has now become a small memorial shrine for the deceased.|
|Shamim, Bishop Humphrey and Rev Ijaz held a session of prayer and reflection at All Saints Church.|
|Eye witness accounts were taken to piece together the particulars of the explosion and its aftermath.|
|An image of the church still standing strong after the recent blast.|
|Shamim and Tariq Chaman responded on behalf of the BPCA and said fianl prayers with Rev Ijaz before meeting the community. For safety we always send officers to locations in pairs.|