PAKISTAN: Archbishop of Canterbury visits persecuted Christians

Version 2Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has met victims of anti-Christian terrorist attacks in Pakistan to express solidarity with them and their communities.

Last weekend, the Archbishop travelled to Islamabad and Lahore and joined in prayer and worship with Christians who have endured terrorist attacks in recent years. On Saturday, he took part in a service at St Thomas Church in Islamabad, attended by victims of the suicide bombings at All Saints Church in Peshawar in September 2013 (Islamic extremists bombed the church, killing 81 people and injuring 166; the number of dead rose over the following days to at least 126). Victims’ families also attended, including many children. During the service, which the Archbishop described as “deeply moving”, he spoke about Psalm 56 v 8, which describes God recording our sorrows, and of the Christian belief in the crucified God.

On Sunday, the Archbishop preached at a service at the Central Cathedral of Praying Hands in Lahore, attended by the bishops of the Church of Pakistan. There he met a woman who had been badly injured in the Peshawar attacks and her husband; one of their children died in the attack. The couple spoke of the comfort of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

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Also on Sunday, at Christ Church in Youhanabad (Lahore’s largest Christian colony), the Archbishop met bereaved relatives and survivors of last year’s terrorist attacks, in which 17 people were killed by suicide bombers at two churches in Youhanabad, and 80 injured. He spoke of the “amazing grace” shown by the survivors, and called for prayer for peace and justice in Pakistan.

As well as meeting survivors of terrorist attacks, Archbishop Welby met children, young people, theological students and government officials. On arriving in Pakistan on Saturday, the Archbishop met the Adviser to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to discuss freedom of religion and protection of religious minorities in Pakistan, and to hear of the suffering of so many Pakistanis in the struggle against terrorism.

Bishop Samuel Azariah expresses thanks

The Archbishop was invited, hosted and accompanied throughout the two-day visit by Bishop Samuel Azariah, Moderator of the Church of Pakistan and Bishop of Raiwind.

Bishop Azariah praised the Archbishop for his visit, saying: “The Archbishop [came] contrary to the advice of his own Foreign Ministry, contrary to the advice of the British High Commission and took a very major and drastic decision that in spite of all the negativities which were being given to him to postpone this visit, he said he would still go there. He was determined to visit Pakistan. He was advised not to attend the church in Islamabad but he said that he would go there and as an Archbishop visiting a province how could he not go to the church and not meet his people.

“So we want to thank him from the depth of our heart. We are grateful to the Communion for thinking of us and praying for us, for a church which is struggling, for a church which is marginalised, for a church which comes under suffering, but a church which lives with hope – with hope in God’s great grace.”

Explaining that the primary purpose of the visit was to meet victims of terrorist attacks, Bishop Azariah said, “He had special services with the families. He prayed with them, he talked with them, he encouraged them, and he brought to them a message of assurance of hope and of the love of Jesus.”

The Church of Pakistan is a united church that brings together Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans. It is a member of the Anglican Communion, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council.

(Anglican Communion News Service, Church News Ireland, Premier)