PAKISTAN: ‘Guard our churches’

Pakistan, 2021: William Arif Khan and security guards at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.
Pakistan, 2021: William Arif Khan and security guards at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.

Catholic volunteer guards in Pakistan are preparing to defend their churches in the run-up to Easter, a time when Christian communities around the world face a heightened threat of terrorist attack.

With global concern peaking in the wake of the Palm Sunday (28th March) suicide bomb at a cathedral in Indonesia, William Arif Khan, who heads up a team of security volunteers in Lahore, stressed the need for extra vigilance.

Mr Khan, in charge of 15 security volunteers at Lahore’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “For the past 12 years, I have been leading young men dedicated to support the 12 security guards stationed at the cathedral.

“We don’t expect any rewards… All of them are on the job and dedicate their holiday to the Church.”

He added: “The volunteers are equipped with metal detectors. The police have allowed us to keep some licensed weapons on church premises; but mostly either my deputy or I are armed with a pistol.”

Mr Khan said: “Everybody is afraid of the terrorists. But we stand for the One who protects us all. Our faith tells us that God won’t let us down.

“Therefore, we perform our duties with complete passion and avoid negative thinking.

“At least 25 policemen, including two women officials, are deployed for Masses…

“Walk-through gates and snipers are used to provide security for the Masses. Senior police officers, including the inspector general of the Punjab police, also make surprise appearances at these special Masses.”

Mr Khan said: “We are also planning to add a few female volunteers to check the women’s purses…

On Easter Sunday 2016, a suicide bomb was set off in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park of Lahore, killing 72 people, many of them Christian women and children celebrating.

In 2017, a teenage girl was captured in a military raid on a Daesh (ISIS) cell in Lahore, who then confessed she was due to carry out a suicide attack on a church in the city over Easter.

On Palm Sunday this year, two suicide bombers attacked the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, Indonesia, injuring 20 and killing themselves in the process.

On Easter Sunday 2019 in Sri Lanka, three churches and three luxury hotels were targeted by suicide bombers, killing more than 320 and injuring 500.

Mr Khan explained that the security arrangements are decided at the highest levels of both the Church and the police.

He said: “Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore usually honours senior police officials for providing security at event masses… Security arrangements have strengthened Church ties with local police.”