“This is a catastrophe for the Christian community of Pakistan,” my secretary Ashbel Taj said to me a few minutes ago. He had just returned from visiting the wounded at Lady Reading Hospital after today’s bombing at All Saints’ Church in the heart of the old city of Peshawar.
Despite having the largest trauma unit in the world, the hospital scene was chaotic, he said, as staff struggled to treat the 200 or more wounded. Information is still emerging, but numerous conversations with colleagues in Peshawar – I’m in the USA at the moment – indicate that 150 or more people were killed.
I’ve tried to reach Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, but he is fully occupied in visiting the wounded in hospital. He was on visitation at the parish in Bannu, in Waziristan, but rushed back upon news of the bombing.
Among the dead are students and alums of Edwardes College, the number yet to be determined. I am told that William Ghulam, who translated for me when I preached at All Saints’, was killed, as were a daughter and son of his. William was head of a high school in Peshawar and an Edwardian. His daughter was a current student at Edwardes, his son an alum who was in medical school. William had an active mind and was a keen observer of changing times in Pakistan. He would come to tea with me to discuss translation details of an upcoming sermon. We once discussed Edwardes opening an Education Department, and he was keen to be involved, especially as he was working toward an MPhil degree in Education.
The litany goes on. A woman student of ours named Mehrab, articulate and mature, who attended Morning Prayer frequently at the College. The sister-in-law of the presbyter-in-charge at St. John’s Cathedral. Naeem, the charismatic music director at All Saints’, who led us so inspirationally as we processed through the old city of Peshawar last Easter morning. And so many others killed or maimed.
I’ve preached at All Saints’ a number of times and have always found it to be an inspiration: a packed sanctuary; latecomers coming to the front to offer their devotions individually before squeezing into a place somewhere; robust Urdu singing; the strong leadership of Pastor Ejaz Gill.
Every Sunday’s liturgy is followed by a sharing of rice pulau – chawal – in the church yard after the service. Today, it seems, the huge pot of hot rice was brought in not through the usual side gate but in a Suzuki vehicle through the main gate. What I have heard is that the two suicide bombers came in at the same time dressed in police uniforms. Then began the mayhem.
An irony is that the 1883 church was designed by CMS missionary Worthington Jukes in the architecture of a mosque and thus as an affirmation of Muslim style in worship space. And now it is specially targeted.
This bombing came a year and a day after the burning of St. Paul’s Church in Mardan on the Day of Love for the Prophet that was declared on 21 September 2012 amid concern in the Muslim world about a notorious video about the Prophet Muhammad.
We keep the affected families, the All Saints’ community, and the Christian community of Pakistan in prayer. And we pray that – somehow, sometime, by the grace of God, and through faithful perseverance in our own work – interfaith harmony may ultimately prevail in Pakistan.