Victims in Bahawalpur: "They Are Martyrs"

Interview with Bishop of Diocese Where Massacre Took Place

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NEW DELHI, India, OCT. 30, 2001 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- As soon as he learned about the massacre at the church of Bahawalpur, Bishop Andrew Francis of the Multan Diocese went immediately to the scene.



--Q: Can you describe to us what happened Sunday?

--Bishop Francis: My heart is broken; I feel very sad. The altar was perforated with bullet holes. There was blood everywhere. The killers fired at the faithful with a rain of bullets and the greater part of the bodies had six to eight bullet holes.

The Protestant pastor, who was officiating at the service, was also killed. This is, undoubtedly, an act of terrorism. Fifteen faithful were massacred inside the church; they were singing the final hymn when the terrorists opened fire. Before entering the church, they had already killed the guard who was in front of the door.

--Q: Do the Protestant faithful use the Catholic church regularly for their services?

--Bishop Francis: As the Protestant church in Pakistan does not have its own building in this area, I gave permission for the use of our church, as an act of good will among Christians. However, the fact that the victims were not Catholic does not change the matter at all -- the objective was persons of Christian faith.

--Q: What do you think of the victims?

--Bishop Francis: They are martyrs. They died witnessing to their own faith in the church during the service. It is a tragic event, but we are trying to give ourselves courage and to accept what happened with dignity.

--Q: Do you think that, as Christians, it is necessary to organize protests against the massacre?

--Bishop Francis: No. We will not try to exploit the martyrdom of these faithful to give publicity to the Church and Christianity. We buried them with dignity.

I am very keen on working for peace and reconciliation because we have to continue to live in a country in which almost 95% of the population is of the Muslim religion, more than 135 million.

My hope and my most ardent prayer are for a future of peace. I am the president of the Christian/Muslim Commission of the Council of Pakistan´s Catholic Bishops, and I belong to the Pontifical Council for Dialogue.

We are in touch, 24 hours a day, with non-Christian clergy and leaders of other religions, for the purpose of creating a profound sense of tolerance, harmony and social unity.

--Q: Do you think the massacre is related to the bombing of Afghanistan?

--Bishop Francis: I have the impression -- and from what I have heard from other sources, I think we can speak of certainty -- that it is the action of a group that supports the Taliban.

--Q: Are you afraid that the continued bombing of Afghanistan might create further situations of risk for Christians?

--Bishop Francis: I do not want to engage in political considerations. In fact, when something happens in the world, we are the scapegoat.

It is always the Christian minority -- a religious minority -- that ends up suffering terribly. This is the lesson of history. These terrorists do not have a God, a religion or a conscience.

--Q: Do you think the attempts to work for peace have failed?

--Bishop Francis: Absolutely not, although the terrorists have the power to ruin it all. We will continue to journey on the path of peace and reconciliation. We forgive those who committed this act and pray for them, and will leave the doors of our church open to peace and reconciliation.