In Pakistan, Christians mourn death of murdered church leader

February 3, 2022 by Tim Dustin in Asia

For William Siraj, 75, and Reverend Patrick Naeem, 55, Sunday, January 30, started as an ordinary Sunday. They led worship for their congregation at the Shaheedan-e-All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan. After the service, they gathered their things to leave, likely looking toward a restful afternoon.

They had no inkling that in only a few minutes they would become terrorist targets.

Pastors William Siraj and Patrick Naeem

As they started their car to leave, two assassins on a motorbike drove up beside them and opened fire. William, a senior lay leader who led worship at three area parishes, was shot in the head and killed instantly, while Reverend Naeem, leader of All Saints Church parish, was severely injured. The assassins sped off, and Reverend Naeem was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment. A third church leader in the car was unharmed.

No group or organization has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, and there is currently a manhunt underway for the two gunmen. However, the northwest part of the city where the attack took place—even the very church site—is an area all too familiar to Islamic extremist violence against Christians.

In September 2013, as more than 600 congregants were leaving All Saints Anglican Church (where Shaheedan-e-All Saints Church was built as a memorial), two suicide bombers killed 127 people (including children) and injured another 250 more. That day, William Siraj lost his son-in-law in the attack. A Pakistani branch of the Taliban (TTP)  took responsibility for that bombing.

Pakistan is No. 8 on Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List

Anglican Church of Pakistan President Azad Marshall strongly condemned the most recent attack, calling it a “targeted killing” and urging enhanced security measures for Christians across Pakistan. Peshawar is close to the Afghanistan border has seen an uptick in attacks by the TTP, clearly emboldened by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan,

“Though no outfit has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it looks like the handiwork of anti-Pakistan militants,” Marshall told Morning Star News. “Our people have been targeted several times by militants in recent years, and there has been a broader increase in violence since the Pakistani Taliban ended a ceasefire with the government last month.”

He warned of more attacks: “As soon as the talks [between the terrorist group and the government] broke down, we have witnessed a sharp increase in terror attacks both on civilians and security forces. It’s important that our armed forces should contain the terror threat before it spirals out of control again.”

As Reverend Naeem continues to recover from his wounds, William is remembered fondly: “He was a very humble and godly man, and we all respected and loved him. He loved us so much,” a visibly emotional church member said.

TV footage showed a crowd carrying his body from the car to a nearby house, chanting “Long live Jesus Christ.”

What is life like for Pakistani Christians today?

Pakistan ranks No. 8 on this year’s World Watch List, a comprehensive report on the 50 most dangerous places for Christians to live in the world. In Pakistan, believers are a 2% minority in a predominantly Islamic country. Christians continue to face deadly persecution and cruelty, giving Pakistan the highest possible violence score (World Watch List research scores countries’ persecution levels in five different spheres, including violence). In 2021, Pakistan had the second-highest number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Nigeria, with 620 slain during the reporting period.

Today in Pakistan, Christians are considered second-class citizens and are discriminated against in every aspect of life. Church leaders can be arrested if they don’t abide by the authorities’ wishes, and these arrests act as warnings to the Christian minority, only intimidating them further.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have even led to further persecution against Christians. In certain areas, aid is only provided to Christian day laborers if they convert to Islam. Many must choose between following Jesus or eating and getting medical care. Additionally, COVID led to a campaign where Christian hospital workers were sent to COVID wards with no protective gear because they were viewed as expendable.

Throughout Pakistan, the country’s infamous blasphemy laws continue to be leveraged to accuse non-Muslims of insulting the Prophet Mohammed or the Quran. In some cases, even a false accusation can lead to mob violence. Additionally, a silent epidemic of kidnappings, forced marriages and forced conversion of Christian girls continues to take place.

Discrimination and pressure are daily realities for Christians throughout the country. The tragic attacks on William and Reverend Naeem illustrate the danger for our Christian family in a country where believers live under constant risk of their lives and livelihood.

top photo: A woman comforts a relative of Christian priest Father William Siraj, 75, who was killed by gunmen, during his funeral service at the All-Saints Church, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

Praying with our family in Christ

Let’s show our brothers and sisters in Christ living in Pakistan that they are not forgotten. Let’s rally around them and flood Heaven with our prayers.

First, let’s pray for Reverend Siraj’s family, friends and congregants, that they would find a sense of peace and purpose during this awful, heart-wrenching time.

Let’s also pray for Reverend Naeem’s recovery, that he would be protected in the hospital, and that he’ll be getting the best care from doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

Let’s pray for all our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, for unbelievable courage, for strength in weakness and for persistence when earthly men try to quiet our heavenly Father.

And let’s pray boldly for those who persecute. That their hearts may be radically transformed, that joy would fill their lives and that they might open their eyes and see the true goodness of God.

We pray in the name of the Lord of lords.

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