Bomb attacks in Pakistan kill 23 and injure Caritas staff

11 March 2008—Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore has been hit by two bomb blasts that have killed 23 people and left scores injured. One of the bomb attacks hit an office of the federal police, which is opposite a Catholic Church compound that includes Caritas offices, the Bishop’s office, a convent and a school.

The bomb exploded at 9:30 a.m. March 11 outside the Federal Investigation Agency office, causing serious damage to nearby Sacred Heart Cathedral, Sacred Heart Cathedral High School, St. Anthony's College, St. Paul Communication Center, the Caritas Pakistan building, a Catholic press building, a convent and catechists' house, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

Initial reports said the blast killed two students at the church schools -- one at Sacred Heart and one at St. Anthony's -- and injured more than 100.

Four members of the Caritas Pakistan staff were hospitalized for their injuries. Caritas Internationalis is the Vatican-based umbrella group for national Catholic charities around the world. There has been significant damage to many of the buildings in the compound. Caritas staff immediately responded by taking the injured to hospital and consoling the families of the dead.

Anila Gull, National Executive of Caritas Pakistan said, "We condemn this act of terror, which has killed indiscriminately and injured many, including Caritas staff. There can be no justification for this crime. Caritas Pakistan is committed to building peace in every way it can." Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organisation for 162 national Catholic charities including Caritas Pakistan, urged for an end to the violence in the country.

Caritas Internationalis President Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez said in a message of condolence to Caritas and the Church in Pakistan, “It’s with great sadness that we see the bloodshed continue to destabilise Pakistan. That Caritas staff who are committed to building peace have been caught up in the blasts only adds to the tragedy. The country needs strong leadership at this time to find peace through dialogue. Violent attacks such as these can never bring about just peaceful solutions.”

Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, has not been a frequent target, although 19 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in January. Pakistan's government has been fighting an Islamist insurgency in its northern provinces and its major cities, and the military is frequently targeted by bombers. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed by a suicide bomber in Rawalpindi in December.

Standing at the scene in Lahore taking photographs, Father Morris Jalal, parish priest of St. Mary's Church, told UCA News, "Life has become totally unsafe nowadays."

Amid the devastation, with volunteers -- including nuns and priests -- trying to help, Jalal said that "dialogue with the violent groups is the only way out."

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore felt the blast from his room, which overlooks the scene. "These are attempts to destabilize the country," the archbishop told UCA News.

He said he hoped the new government elected in February would "resolve the issue through dialogue."

Another blast that occurred simultaneously in the Model Town area of the city injured several people and demolished an advertising agency.

Muslim militants have been targeting government institutions in suicide bomb attacks. One such attack on the Lahore High Court killed 23 people Jan. 10. Last year, more than 500 people were reported killed in similar attacks around the country.

Caritas Pakistan was founded in 1965 and runs development and emergency response programmes throughout the country with no regard to race, religion, or political affiliation. A massive suicide bomb targeting a government building killed 23 people and badly damaged Catholic buildings in Lahore.

Source: Caritas and Catholic News Service

Copyright © 2008 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

All active news articles