It was a little after 11 am on Sunday, 15 March 2015. Asher Naveed, a member of the parish council and a voluntary security guard at Lahore’s Christ Church in Youhanabad, was sitting at the back of the church with seven other members of the security team. Glancing at his watch, Naveed realized that the sermon had gone on for longer than usual; by now, congregants who did not want to join in the Communion would ordinarily be leaving the church. One man, his wife and daughter, snuck out from the pews, headed towards Naveed, and asked him to open the church doors so they could leave.
Less than a minute after the family walked out, Naveed heard the man’s motorbike rev up, followed by the sound of gunshots.
“I heard five or six shots, in quick succession,” Naveed recalled when he spoke to me. In the few seconds of silence that followed, one of guards headed to a small door near the entrance. “We thought it was some miscreants causing a commotion outside, or at worst, a shooting between people from the neighbourhood (Youhanabad),” Naveed said. The guard cracked the door open and peered outside; seconds later, he was swept off his feet and thrown backwards into the church by the force of an explosion.
“Everything was grey,” Naveed recalled. “I remember thinking, as I looked outside the door that had been blasted open, that our congregants had come to church dressed in such beautiful, colourful clothes. But I could see none of that colour, everything had turned grey.”
Through the smoke and debris, Naveed told me that he spotted what he thought was the suicide bomber’s leg. “The minute I saw body parts, we closed the door so people would not rush out and see that,” he said. “All I could think of was how the sermon had gone on longer than usual that day. If it hadn’t, imagine how many families would have been outside the church when the bombings took place.”
The attacks on 15 March were the worst on Pakistan’s Christian community since a double suicide bombing at a church in Peshawar in September 2013 that left nearly one hundred people dead. The community—which makes up roughly 2 percent of Pakistan’s population of more than 180 million people—lost nineteen people in the bombings at Christ Church and Roman Catholic Church, located half a kilometer apart in Lahore’s Youhanabad neighbourhood, home to an estimated 100,000 Christians. Two Christians were killed the following day as a panicked driver tried to make her way through a crowd of protestors, running over fourteen people.
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(First photo by me; photo below by Umar Ali)