It was Easter of 2016, when across the whole city of Lahore rumors stared spreading about a kamikaze explosion inside the Gulshan and Iqbal Park, which caused a massacre.
It is one of the most heinous actions ever committed by the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan. The final count was 70 victims, mostly women and children. One year has gone by since that tragic event. Now it is Easter Eve 2017 and the amusement park has been reopened and, as a sort of challenge to terrorists and terror, today the park is crowded with families and children, the attractions are working again and nobody wants to talk about what happened, probably to remove the horror, the panic, the death, and to make life prevail.
But it is still Easter Eve in Pakistan, the alert is at the highest level; the soldiers patrol each single entry of the Gulshan and Iqbal Park, but not just them: all the streets leading toward the churches and Catholic places of worship are closed and controlled by the soldiers of the Pakistani army. The Lahore cathedral is going to host the celebration of the festivity. Hundreds of people are converging toward the church. It is evening, there is a celebratory mood in the air and there is a great desire to participate in the scene. There is the Lahore bishop Sebastian Francis Shaw, and there is father Mani, who explains: “In the past they tried to make a terror attack here, but they didn’t make it. However they made a massacre in the Yohannabad quarter and on the day of Easter and just before the Holy Days there are always critical moments because, taking advantage of the vast participation of the devotees, the terrorists try to infiltrate and to cause a mass killing”.
The Easter watch begins, hundreds of candles fill the naves of the cathedral with an intense and delicate light but, all around, there are undercover policemen, bomb disposal engineers sifting through the temple in search of possible bombs and snipers on the roofs.“See, these are Muslim soldiers, but they are still here to protect us Christians. We shall not generalize; we Christians have a lot of problems in Pakistan: the blasphemy law, the terrorism, the hate of the jihadists…but there are also Muslims who are the first in line to risk their lives to protect us and to allow us to pray”.
The same scene occurs the day after in the Yohannabad quarter. This is the Christian ghetto of the city of Punjab, more than 40 thousand people live in this neighborhood, a target of the Taliban who, only 2 years ago, attacked the Saint John Church and made a massacre. The streets leading to the church are controlled by the soldiers, and armed volunteers wait everywhere: on the roofs, behind sand sacks and on the balconies, protected by the parapets in which they dug embrasures to shoot from. “This is our Easter. But it doesn’t matter. What is important is that thousands of persons took part in the celebrations and that today the church is full of people”.
These are the words of Francis Gulzar, general vicar of Lahore who, after the function in which an incredible number of families took part, went on saying: “A lot of fearless people came here to celebrate Easter. This is the most important demonstration and the strongest message we could send. We proved that we do not surrender to fear, that we do not leave even 1 centimeter to the Taliban, and that our will to live and our faith in God is stronger than any bomb. This is an important message the whole planet should learn”.
Pictures by Marco Gualazzini