NEW DELHI — Church schools and other Christian institutions in Karachi, Pakistan, have closed to protest the killing of Christians in the country’s central Punjab region on Aug. 1.
Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan, said in a statement Monday that all Christian institutions in Punjab should “close down and observe mourning for three days to condemn the burning of seven Christians alive.”
The Christians killed on Saturday reportedly included four women and two children. In addition, 50 people were injured and scores of Christian homes torched.
The violence followed rumors that Christians in the region had desecrated a copy of the Quran. The attack in Gojra took place as a Muslim march passed through a predominantly Christian area in the town.
“The leaders of the march were inciting violence against Christians and there was even firing from the mob on Christians,” Peter Jacob, a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Pakistan, told Ecumenical News International.
After one Christian returned fire, Jacob said, the Muslim crowd, said to number hundreds, attacked the Christians and set their houses on fire.
“Many of the dead were shot and set on fire. The post-mortem showed bullet injuries besides the burning,” said Jacob. He questioned why authorities allowed, “such a provocative procession to enter a Christian neighborhood at all.”
he Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) on Monday appealed to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to ensure the security of Christians in the Punjab province, noting three attacks against Christian communities by militant Islamic groups in the previous two months.
“The Gojra carnage … the latest in a series of organized attacks against Christians reconfirms the fear that the government is constantly failing to protect its citizens who frequently face attack by militant Islamic groups,” said Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the WCC.
In Lahore, the National Council of Churches of Pakistan, which includes several four Protestant denominations, deplored the attack on the Christians as “shocking.”
More than 40 Christian homes were reported to have been torched after clerics used the public address system of the local mosque to call for such attacks. A crowd prevented firefighters from reaching the burning houses with Muslim women lying down on the roads to block access for the firefighting trucks.
Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minorities, who is a Christian, denied that the Quran had been defaced by Christians and accused police of ignoring his appeal to provide protection to