“We are shaken. We are upset. But this will not stop us worshipping.” These are the words of Bible Society’s general secretary in Pakistan, Anthony Ajiaz Lamuel, following the double suicide bombing on churches in Lahore.
On March 15, two bomb blasts killed 15 people and injured more than 70 others, at churches in a Christian neighbourhood in the Pakistani city of Lahore.
Thousands of people were attending the Sunday morning services. Two suicide bombers detonated their explosives at the gates of St John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church, two of the largest churches in the town.
An offshoot of the Pakistan Taliban, known as Jamatul Ahrar, has claimed responsibility.
Christians make up just 2 per cent of the largely Muslim population in Pakistan.
Mr Lamuel said that the mood among Lahore’s Christians was resilient.
“Persecutions we can take,” he said. “But we have to be present in Pakistan’s society and we have to make our presence known.” Mr Lamuel said he first heard of the bombings whilst attending church. “My phone kept ringing. At first I ignored it, but then I knew there was a problem,” he said.
“We left the service and raced across town. The roads were blocked so we took all the back routes.”
“When we arrived it was chaos. It was very, very sad, you can imagine. We didn’t know how many had been injured or died.”
“Then came the news that people we knew had stopped the suicide bombers entering the churches. They didn’t recognize them and stopped them going in. ‘One blessing has been that though we lost 15 lives, it would have been more like 400 or 500 if they had got into the churches, which were packed.’ Mr Lamuel said he believed that the extremists had targeted the churches because they were so well attended and there would be many casualties.”
He added that the violence was repellent to many moderate Muslims within Pakistan and leading to a greater interest, by many, in the Bible.
“People say, ‘Why must they kill?’ They witness what is happening and so our distribution of Bibles among Muslims has increased amazingly.’ Yet this work happens under constant threat of attack, including a local paper front page headline in a city 45 kms west of Islamabad last year that read, ‘Burn Bible Society’.”
“We have always had threats,” said Mr Lamuel. “I used to sell scriptures to passersby on the streets. We were beaten at times, and we had our Bibles burned and taken away from us.”
“But now, there’s a fear in the back of my mind which was never there 20 years ago.” Bible Society’s offices are surrounded by razor wire and concrete crash barriers. Every visitor goes through a scanner and has to leave their bags outside. The corridor that leads to Lamuel’s office is made of reinforced concrete and steel. Fifteen security cameras guard the premises.
“We are there, and it is an opportunity for us to be a light and also to allow the fragrance of God’s hope and love to permeate the atmosphere of our country,” said Mr Lamuel.
“We will never shut down. We will never close.”