.- Christians in Pakistan are grieving the loss of 15 people who were killed in suicide bomb attacks on two churches in Lahore on Sunday, and are protesting the lack of security provided by the government to the nation's tiny Christian minority.
Within minutes of each other, suicide bombers blew themselves up March 15 outside St. John's, a Catholic parish, and Christ Church, a Protestant church, in Lahore's Youhanabad neighborhood, a Christian hub.
More than 70 were wounded in the attacks, responsibility for which was claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban group. A police spokesman has said that two policemen guarding the churches were among those killed.
"The bombing targeting innocent people who were praying; it was a cruel act and despicable attack,” Asif Nazir, a local catechist, told CNA March 15.
“At the moment people are praying for peace and are seeking support to help the injured victims, and are desperately seeking blood donors to save more lives,” he added.
Following the attack, protesters blocked roads and burned tires in protest over a lack of protections afforded the Christian population – which is fewer than two percent of Pakistan's population. A mob also beat to death, and then burned, two persons suspected to have been involved in the attacks.
The bishops of Pakistan have urged the faithful to be calm, and pray that peace prevails.
Christians across the country have participated in protests over being targeted in the country, which is 97 percent Muslim. Christian schools across Pakistan are closed today, observing a day of mourning.
Pakistan's government has announced a compensation of 500,000 Pakistani rupees ($4,920) for the family of each victim, and 75,000 rupees ($740) for each of those injured.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned the bombings, issuing a statement directing “provincial governments to ensure the security of (the) public and their properties.”
Both churches had police provided for security, but Christians in Pakistan maintain that not enough is done to protect them from such attacks.
Parishioners of St. John's told Zari Jalil of Dawn, a Karachi-based publication, that three policemen were supposed to have been providing security, but two of them were in a nearby shop watching a cricket match at the time of the attack.
Each of the churches have security gates to prevent attackers entering the buildings themselves, so as to minimize casualties.
One of the victims of the attack on St. John's was Zaid Yousuf, known as Goga. His brother, Riaz Fazal, told Dawn that when the bombers approached, “three boys asked them to identify themselves. They shot two of the boys point blank. But Goga intercepted them, and pushed them back, and in that time, a terrorist blew himself up.”
Nazir told CNA that “today's attack is one of the worst on the community since the last attack carried out on All Saint’s Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate area in 2013.”
The Sept. 22, 2013 attack on All Saints in Peshawar killed more than 80 and wounded at least 120 as they left a service.
And on Nov. 4, 2014, a Christian couple living 40 miles from Lahore were killed by a mob after they were accused of desecrating the Quran.
Pakistan has adopted blasphemy laws which impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad, and accusation of blasphemy against Islam fall disproportionately on the Christian and Hindu minorities, though they are also said to be often used to settle personal scores.
Pope Francis lamented the attacks following his Angelus address on Sunday, saying, “our brothers shed their blood solely because they are Christians.”
He implored God “for the gift of peace and harmony for that country, and that this persecution against Christians – which the world tries to hide – will end, and that there will be peace.”