Thousands of Christians march for peace
Since the start of the year, Islamic extremists and Pakistani Taliban have carried out at least ten major attacks across the country.
Pakistan's Christian community observed a day of prayer for peace across the country on January 26. The Catholic initiative is in response to the escalating terror that has left scores of people dead in the first weeks of 2014.
“We Christians do not wish to react nor respond to the provocations, instead to pray and fast, placing the difficulties that the country is experiencing in God's hands,” Father John Shakir Nadeem, secretary for social communications for the Episcopal Conference, had said before the event.
Thousands of people joined the candlelight vigil held in the capital. Since the start of the year, Islamic extremists and Pakistani Taliban have carried out at least ten major attacks across the country.
"In the past, we have witnessed actual bloodbaths. Churches and schools have been attacked, and we have lost loved ones in the war on terror. We stand firm with our Armed Forces who are fighting on the front line. We also stand by the government as it puts up a fierce fight against violence and terror," said Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad-Rawalpindi addressing the crowd.
Most Pakistanis want quick action from the government, including a decisive military campaign to eradicate terrorism from the roots.
"People want peace and security. We pray for peace in the region because we want a future for the new generations, a future free from fear," said Father John P Riaz from Rawalpindi.
The Christian community in Khyber Pukthunkhawa province also celebrated one hundred years of presence in Tribal Areas, despite the fact that they do not enjoy the same status as the rest of the local population and are not recognised as members of any tribe.
"Although Christians are loyal to tribal laws, we are not accepted as part of the tribe where we live," said Arshad John, a local Christian. "Christians are not allowed to take part in jirga (a local assembly of elders). We are aliens in our own land, a land which we have protected for more than a hundred years."
Christians are not allowed to build churches, and pastors and priests have to refrain from venturing into these areas because of the danger of abduction and murder. Recently, a priest was kidnapped and released only after a large sum of money was paid.
"It is ironic that Christians are not recognised even in tribal areas despite their loyalty," said Father James Ilyas of Peshawar diocese, where a Protestant church was attacked in September.
Violence against ethnic and religious minorities is commonplace across the country with 96.5% Muslims.
Source: Vatican Radio