Christians in Pakistan are bracing for possible attacks after U.S. forces killed long sought-after terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in one of the country's northern cities.
“The situation is tense,” said Paul Bhatti, Pakistan's religious minorities adviser. “There are, in fact, strong reactions of unreasonable fear against Christian minorities. The government is paying close attention to preventive measures.”
Vatican-based Fides news reported that schools and Christian institutions in the country have been closed – and local churches guarded with high security measures – after a U.S. special forces military operation raided the summer residence of Osama bin Laden on May 1 in the city of Abbottabad, killing the Al Qaeda leader and several others.
Bin Laden is credited for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 that left nearly 3,000 Americans dead.
Pakistan authorities have provided security measures in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Multan and several others cities out of concern for possible violence against Christians by Taliban groups.
Fr. Mario Rodrigues, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Pakistan, said government officials “have put us on alert, calling for the closure of our institutions and placing more police personnel in front of churches.”
“Christians in Pakistan are innocent victims, even in this situation: any excuse is good to threaten or to attack,” he told Fides on May 2.
Fr. Rodrigues suggested the possibility that “in the coming months the persecution against Christians could decrease and the Taliban ideological struggle weaken.”
“We observe, however,” he warned, “that intolerance and radical Islamic groups are flourishing in the country, and other extremist leaders could establish themselves and continue terrorist actions.”
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said on May 2 that Bin Laden was guilty of “grave acts” during his life and that he manipulated the religion of Islam to “spread division and hate among the peoples.”
“A Christian never takes pleasure from the fact of a man's death, but sees it as an opportunity to reflect on each person's responsibility, before God and humanity, and to hope and commit oneself to seeing that no event become another occasion to disseminate hate but rather to foster peace.”
Archbishop Anthony Rufin of Islamabad echoed the Vatican's remarks, saying that in “the soul of a Christian there is never joy for the death of a man, even if he is an enemy.”
“On the occasion of the death of Bin Laden I would like to remind the supreme commandment of the Christian message: love your enemies.”
He underscored the Pakistan bishops' “absolute respect for Islam and all Muslims of Pakistan,” whom “we believe it is possible to share dialogue and collaboration to build a peaceful nation.”
Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan also noted “the closeness of the Church towards the Muslims, with whom we shared yesterday a celebration in honor of Blessed interfaith John Paul II.”
“Today it is important for us to point out his shining example of openness to others, dialogue with Islam, recognized and appreciated by Pakistani Muslims to stop any fundamentalist drift and any attempt to incite hatred among religious communities.”