From The Voice of the Martyrs, February 2002 Newsletter
Toddlers were among those killed. Even when their little bodies fell the bullets didn’t stop. Some people ran for cover toward a small room behind the altar. Pleas for mercy were ignored, survivors said. They recalled one killer who stood over a pile of dead and wounded mothers and children, pulling the trigger again and again until the screaming and moaning stopped.
October 28, 2001, will remain etched in the memory of survivors of the brutal massacre of 15 Christians and one Muslim police guard during a Sunday morning church service in Bawalpur, Pakistan. Among the dead was Pastor Emmanuel Ditta.
According to a report from Compass Direct, an estimated 70 Protestants were concluding their Sunday service at St. Dominic’s local Catholic church, a borrowed facility, where they have held services for the last 30 years. It was 9.00 am and Pastor Emmanuel Ditta was leading the congregation in the closing hymn. Six bearded and masked men mounted on three motorcycles rode into the church compound. Pulling out AK47 assault rifles they began their carnage. They opened fi re in the courtyard, killing one of the guards stationed at the gate, and shouted “Graveyard of Christians – Pakistan and Afghanistan! This is just the start.”
Chanting “Allah-u-Akbar” (Allah is great), four of the assailants strode into the church, locked the doors of the grey stone building and released a hail of bullets on the congregation. They continued firing for about two minutes and then fled, unidentified, leaving behind bullet-marked walls, shattered stained-glass windows and bodies sprawled in pools of blood.
The attack was the worst single massacre of Christians in Pakistan’s 54-year history. 16 people died and at least five parishioners were severely wounded; the most serious was Mrs Sarai Nemat Masih who had been shot 12 times. Six bullets lodged in her stomach, three in one leg, and three in her arm.
Within hours of the attack, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf issued a statement condemning the loss of “16 innocent and precious lives” and blaming the incident on trained terrorists. More than 100 activists from militant Islamic groups were arrested during overnight raids.
An unknown group calling itself Lashkar-e-Umar (Army of Umar) claimed responsibility for the carnage, calling it revenge for “the American crusade” in Afghanistan, in a fax sent to a local Urdu-language newspaper.
Two days before the massacre, AlQaeda representative, Suleyman Abu-alFaid, threatened a “Christmas bloodbath” if the United States continued to bomb Afghanistan during Ramadan. “If the attacks are not stopped during our holy month of Ramadan, then we will devastate all the infidels’ Christmas and Happy New Year celebrations throughout the world”, he is reported to have told the Urdu daily.
The constitution of overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan guarantees religious freedom for its citizens of all faiths. “But in practice,” The New York Times writer John E. Burns notes, “non-Muslims face extensive discrimination under the country’s laws, and, in the case of Christians, widespread incidents of violence.” Pakistan’s population is 97 percent Muslim. The remaining three percent includes the country’s Christians.
Pakistan’s Christian citizens, who are forbidden by law to own guns, are a “very easy target, because we don’t believe in violence”, commented Catholic Bishop Andrew Francis.
Six-year-old Elisaba Masih is one of the injured survivors. Both her legs were wounded, one fractured by four bullets. Her father also required surgery for an injured arm. When someone asked her if she would go back to church again, she replied firmly, “Yes I will, I will definitely go back to church.” Her faith, undiminished by the tragic slaughter, burns brightly.
Please pray for the families of those killed and injured in Pakistan, including the Muslim police guard.
The best way to assist Christians in this region is through our Families of Martyrs or Ministry to Muslim World fund. This enables us to direct funds to the most needy areas of ministry.