“Bloodthirsty Blast in Peshawar church. My hands were full of blood when I was taking out dead bodies and the injured. 2 girls of our College also died in blast. More than 150 died. It was the worst Sunday that ever came in my life. Many old Edwardians were also injured seriously.” So wrote a Christian student of Edwardes College to me about his experience yesterday at All Saints’ Church in the old city section of Peshawar.
He also sent a number of pictures, of which I’m posting just a couple. The face of the young woman is both haunted and haunting. The multiplicity of coffins testifies to calamity.
Funerals continue to be held, as they were until 2am this morning, and five or six more people died in hospital today from their injuries. Casualty figures vary widely. I still hear 150 or more deaths, while others say about 125, and news media report 81.
One colleague wrote: “Priests and Fathers pray on patients for their healing. Some of the victims are operated on, small metal beads and metal pieces are taken out of their bodies. Others still have them in their bodies. Doctors will operate on them later.”
All Saints’ Church was the scene of many visits today. Bishop Humphrey Peters was there, as were Bishop Emeritus Mano Rumalshah and Church of Pakistan Moderator Bishop Samuel Azariah. Several members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan visited. Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims came to express inter-religious solidarity in the wake of the tragedy.
There was still blood and flesh on the floors and walls of the church, I am told. The structure of the historic church was not damaged, but windows and wooden furnishings inside were, and the Sunday School building across the courtyard was damaged.
On the Diocese of Peshawar website appears the following report:
The Rt Rev Humphrey S. Peters, Peshawar, has condemned the suicide attack on All Saints’ Church and expressed his condolences to all the families who have lost their loved ones. He said that attack on All Saint’s Church is the total failure of the new Government of KPK, and government has failed to provide security to the minorities in Khayber Pakhtunkhwa, Peshawar Pakistan. He appealed to the all the Christian Community in Pakistan and around the world to pray for the affected families.
Protest was indeed prominent yesterday and today as demonstrations were launched in various cities around the country. For news of public and government reaction, today’s edition of Dawn newspaper, available at its website, provides many stories, and today’s editorial, “Deadly ideology: Killing of churchgoers,” is especially good. Suffice it to say that public pronouncements on all sides have been encouraging.
“Sunday was a dark day in Peshawar,” a Muslim colleague said to me over the phone today. “We Pakhtun people protect people – we do not destroy them,” he declared, noting that, historically, religious minorities have had little to fear along the northwest frontier of Pakistan. “Now the core of Pakhtunwali has been destroyed,” he said, referring to the cultural norms of the Pakhtuns, among which hospitality is a cardinal mandate.
The cultural dissonance between past and present that these comments highlight is an important point for outsiders to take in. What happened in Peshawar yesterday expresses a rise in extremism that is quite different from the tenor of the Pakistan that people knew from Independence to about 1980. So it is not that this is somehow intrinsically Pakistani, that “those people have always been that way,” and so on.
No, this is new – that is, a development over the past 20 or 30 years. And it prompts in many, many Pakistanis surprise, bewilderment and grief. As the same colleague said after the shooting of Malala Yousefzai, “We were not like this!” People are angry at the sacrifice of innocent lives, and outraged that the nation and its people – they themselves – are misrepresented to the outside world through such events.
At the other end of the age spectrum, the early 20s, here is a letter from a Muslim student:
I am very sad and hurt by the incident that took place at All Saints Church. Many of my brothers from Edwardes were there and are injured. I can understand what you are going through as I have also witnessed the bombing of a mosque and all the lives that were lost. . . .
It is sad to see what has become of the city that I love and live in. This is not only an attack on the Christian Community but on the entire Community of Peshawar, and we pray for our brothers, sisters and their families.
Sir, Please guide me in how I can help the families who are mourning for their loved ones and be a part of their pain in such a difficult and tragic time.
Solidarity – the recognition and embrace of a common humanity – is the hallmark of this note. The aspiration to “be a part of their pain” is precious and redemptive. He seeks not to push away the pain as their pain, the pain of some other community that can be cordoned off from his own, but to be a part of their pain – to experience their pain as his own pain, to walk with them through their pain, to suffer with them. That is true compassion. That is empathy.
Therein lies hope for the future.