By Kamran Chaudhry
To mark the third anniversary of terrorist attacks on two churches in Lahore when suicide bombers attacked Sunday worshippers, families of the 15 Christian victims gathered to commemorate their loved ones.
Women broke down while speaking during the March 15 thanksgiving prayers for the martyrs at St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church.
Church security volunteers checked visitors who offered bouquets and lit candles at the altars. Prayers were also offered for 42 Christians jailed for lynching two suspected terrorists in riots after the attacks. Two of them died in prison.
“The memories of martyrs freshen and strengthen our faith,” stated banners displayed in markets in the Youhanabad area of Lahore.
The family of Abhishek, an 8-year-old Christian child who died in front of Christ Church, offered Iftar (fast breaking) meals in Youhanabad, Pakistan’s largest Christian settlement and home to 50 churches.
Pastor Shahid P. Meraj, dean of the Anglican Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Lahore, encouraged worshippers to live their faith.
“The attack anniversary carries special meaning amid the ongoing Lent season. It is important for the faithful to experience the cross. The attacks on Christians cannot dampen our spirits. Do not be scared of displaying rosaries in your vehicles. Martyrdom is our heritage,” he told a congregation of more than 200 at Christ Church.
Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, national director of the Pakistani bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace, held prayers for peace with 15 other priests.
Armed policemen wearing bullet-proof vests prevented crowds from gathering in front of churches at the end of ecumenical prayers.
“Some outsiders and political parties tried to create a disturbance by organizing unannounced rallies on the anniversary. We only allow programs organized by the local church council. At least six policemen, two women officials and a vehicle have been deployed at big churches every Sunday since the attacks,” police spokesman Tariq Mehmood told ucanews.com.
On March 9, Joseph Colony, another Christian settlement in Lahore, observed the fifth anniversary of a 2013 attack by a mob that looted and destroyed 116 houses and two churches after an allegation of blasphemy.
Churches in Pakistan have announced March 16 as a day of fasting for persecuted religious minorities.
The Pakistani Taliban’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction described the 2015 blasts as suicide attacks and vowed to continue their campaign for the enforcement of Shariah in a statement emailed to the media.