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Pakistan PM must take blame for failing to protecting Christians, says archbishop

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (PA)

Pakistan’s Prime Minister must take part of the blame for yesterday’s deadly attacks on Sunday churchgoers, according to the leader of the country’s Catholics.

Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Kararchi accused Nawaz Sharif and his chief ministers of leaving minority faith communities open to attack by failing to act on a 2014 order from the Supreme Court to provide security in all places of worship.

Outlining the significance of the court order, the archbishop, who is President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said: “This order of the Supreme Court has not been implemented.”

In his message, which he sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the archbishop added: “This new act of terrorism has cruelly shown how defenceless we are due to this neglect.”

The archbishop’s statement came after two suicide bombings were carried out during Sunday services in Lahore in the district of Youhanabad, which is densely populated by Christians – one outside St John’s Catholic Church and the other at Christ Church, part of the Church of Pakistan.

Pakistan Taliban splinter group Jamatul Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted one of the largest Christian communities in the country. According to reports, 14 were killed and more than 70 were injured.

Meanwhile, further criticism of the government came from leaders of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), which acts on behalf of the Catholic Church in Pakistan.

The NCJP accused the authorities and the police of failing to provide basic security for churches despite an ongoing threat of violence faced by Christian communities in Youhanabad and elsewhere.

NCJP national director Fr Emmanuel Asi and executive director Cecil S Chaudhry said: “Although [extremists] claim responsibility for the twin church attack in Youhanabad, Lahore, the fact remains that the… security at the time of [the] attack were busy watching [a] cricket match rather than performing their duty of protecting the churches.

“In result of this negligence, many Christian people have lost their life and families their loved ones.”

Violent protests erupted after the blasts, with reports of the killing of two men, accused by the mob of being implicated in the explosions.

Calling for calm, Archbishop Coutts in his message said: “I particularly appeal to all Christians to voice their protests in a peaceful manner and not to resort to violence and destruction of public property, which serves no purpose.”

The archbishop said that as a mark of respect for the dead and those in mourning all Catholic schools and educational centres in the diocese would remain closed on Monday.

With acts of violence and intimidation against Christians and other minorities commonplace in Pakistan, the archbishop also stated: “Once again, the state has not been able to provide safety to its citizens. Millions of citizens continue to live in a state of constant tension and fear, not knowing what to expect next.”

The archbishop said the faithful should, during this period of Lent, focus on helping the injured and traumatised.

He added: “I appeal to all citizens of goodwill to be united in this time of sadness and loss. Our solidarity is essential to show the terrorists that we condemn their methods of senseless violence.”

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Clifton, Right Rev Declan Lang, who is chair of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ department for international affairs, said: “The weekend massacres in Lahore showed in the most terrible way just how vulnerable Pakistani Christians, and other communities, are to extremist political violence.

“The statement by Archbishop Coutts makes clear what the Pakistan government’s responsibilities are and how much more needs to be done to protect its citizens.”

He added: “My prayers and thoughts are with the victims, their families and with those supporting them pastorally within the Pakistani Church.”

Bishop Lang will remember the victims of the attacks during a Mass celebrated at Clifton Cathedral, Bristol, on the Feast of St Joseph on Thursday (March 19).