Pakistan’s Christians struggle with casualties after bloody church bombing kills 85

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The words written in bright red above the sanctuary of All Saints Church, one of Pakistan’s oldest Christian houses of worship, read in English, “I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.”

But worshipers were weeping and mournful as they gathered outside the church Monday, one day after two suicide bombers killed 85 people and wounded at least 120 in what church leaders consider the deadliest attack on Christians in the country’s 66-year history.

The aftermath of the attack was visible on the patio of the church, constructed in 1883, during the British colonial era. The brick was stained with blood, and dozens of pairs of sandals belonging to

victims lay unclaimed. The historic white-stone church looked as if it had stood between gunmen in a battle, with hundreds of small chunks missing from its walls. Clumps of hair and flesh stained the courtyard walls, near where a bishop of the Church of Pakistan sat comforting victims and accepting calls of outrage from religious leaders from across the globe.

“We are feeling insecure, afraid and disturbed,” said the Rev. Humphrey S. Peters, the bishop of Peshawar for the Church of Pakistan, established in 1970 to serve the Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian faiths. “But our faith is growing stronger.”

Later Monday, Pakistan’s National Assembly approved a resolution condemning the “heinous, brutal and inhuman attack,” calling it an attack not only on Christians but “against all Pakistanis.”

Christians compose only 1 to 2 percent of Pakistan’s population and have long complained of being under siege from Islamist militants and others in this overwhelmingly Muslim nation. Yet Sunday’s bombing stunned the entire nation and inflamed the already delicate effort to maintain public order.

For the second consecutive day, Christians protested in cities across the country, throwing rocks, blocking traffic and burning tires. In Peshawar, according to local media reports, some protesters even used bodies of the dead to block traffic in protest.

A splinter group affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for Sunday’s attack, which reportedly killed scores of children attending Sunday school and choir members, saying it was in protest of U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil, the latest of which might have occurred Sunday.

In a statement, U.S. Ambassador Richard G. Olson said the church bombing was “an assault on the values of the people of Pakistan and a threat to a prosperous future for all citizens.” While traveling to New York for the U.N. General Assembly, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told reporters that the attack has him rethinking his plan to engage the Taliban in peace talks.

But in Peshawar, the victims and their families had little appetite for politicians or diplomatic speak.

Arshad Javed, 52, battled the stench of death in the church courtyard Monday to collect ball bearings that had been used in the explosives to maim and kill.

“This is a killing point,” Javed said after he collected about a dozen ball bearings in one hand.

The damage inflicted was evident at Lady Reading Hospital across town, where doctors struggled for a second day to treat the wounded. Here, too, the weeping was nearly constant, as patients waited in cramped and squalid quarters.

Angry fathers screamed at hospital staff as their children or wives sat waiting for medical attention. Many patients wore bandages that looked as if they hadn’t been changed since the initial hours after the blast. Shin-high piles of bloody clothes, empty water bottles, bandages and other debris collected on the edges of the emergency room. (Doctors later explained that several members of the cleaning staff had been killed in the blast.)

“We are doing our best,” said Ghulam Subhini, a doctor, noting that staff members had conducted 45 major operations in six operating rooms in about 24 hours. “We had to put two people in the same beds.”

One victim, Danish Younas, 32, sat in bed with a rod through a broken and shrapnel-gouged leg. He said his uncle and two nephews had been killed in the bombing.

“The Christian people are not safe,” Younas said, who was lying next to an open plastic bottle that had been used to store blood. “If some foreign countries want to do something for the Christian people, they are going to have to act.”

Despite broader fears about their future, some victims said they were heartened by an outpouring of support Monday from Muslim neighbors, some of whom helped dig graves. Representatives from Islamic charities also walked through the hospital handing out the equivalent of $20 to patients.

“The bombings are done by those forces who have an anti-

Pakistan agenda,” Rehman Malik, a former interior minister, said while visiting victims in the hospital. “What damage they wanted to do to the country, they have done that. They have embarrassed the whole nation.”

But Bishop Samuel Azariah, head of the Church of Pakistan, said the country’s leaders also must recognize that they need to be more inclusive and not allow the “state to take on a particular religious belief.” Until then, he said, Pakistan’s Christian community will rely on its faith.

At the church, it was not lost on worshipers that with the blast taking place in the courtyard immediately after services ended, those most likely to survive unscathed were those who remained in the pews for what one man called those “extra prayers.”

Haq Nawaz Khan and Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.