Bishop calls for government action after killings at Catholic school

AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEEDThe attack took place on May 16 in a Catholic school in north-eastern Pakistan and killed two girls, leaving five other children and one adult wounded.

A police officer who was working as a security guard at a Catholic school for girls in north-eastern Pakistan opened fire on a group of teachers and students, killing two young girls, one of whom was only nine. Five other girls and one adult were injured in the shooting, which happened in Sangota, at a school run by the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The police officer, who had been hired in February to provide security at the school, has been arrested. An inquiry is ongoing.

In the wake of the incident, Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, said, “We feel threatened and insecure amid growing terrorism in the country. This is regrettable. We demand that the guard be punished, to avoid similar incidents in the future.”

For his part, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, spoke out against groups opposed to the education of girls and said that the authorities must do more to keep schools safe.

“We Catholics, and Christians in general, run some girls-only schools. And some people are against the education of women, in Pakistan and elsewhere. This man oversaw security for the children, the staff, the parents, everybody. That is what he was paid for. But in a moment of madness, he did this because the school teaches girls. This shows how aggressive these groups that are opposed to women’s education can be.”

But, the Archbishop of Lahore added, this attack will not dampen the Church’s commitment to  provide an education for all, especially the more vulnerable, as it has done consistently. “We will continue to educate. Wherever there is a man or a woman, a boy, or a girl. We are all humans, and all humans have a right to an education. Everybody has a right to become a better person, to develop their personality, to grow.”. Archbishop Shaw also said that the situation has, created an atmosphere of insecurity, “which is why the government has to do more to protect its institutions and the people who are committed to education and health.”

The school that was attacked was overrun by Islamic fundamentalists in 2009. Fortunately, the sisters managed to evacuate the building in time, avoiding any personal harm, but the school only reopened in 2012. Prior to that, a radical Islamic group – Jan Nisaran-e-Islam – threatened the school, prompted by the false accusations that the sisters were trying to convert their 800 Muslim students to Christianity.

The Church in Pakistan has asked all Catholic schools in the country to hold a day of prayer in solidarity with the victims of the attack.

Religion continues to be grounds for discrimination in Pakistan. According to ACN’s 2021 Religious Freedom Report, “discrimination, blasphemy, kidnappings of women and girls, and forced conversions continue to haunt the daily life of religious minorities” in the country.

—Paulo Aido, AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED. Published with permission.

Photo: Archbishop Shaw

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