Catholic parents whose son was killed by a suicide bomber in the 2016 Easter Sunday attack at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, Pakistan have told Lahore's Archbishop that they have forgiven the man that killed their child. Speaking with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw said: "After celebrating Holy Mass I went up to a married couple to give them my blessing.
"They told me that my homily on mercy and pardon had helped them greatly, since they had lost a son in the attack in the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park on Easter Sunday and that they had forgiven the suicide bomber who blew himself up in that attack."
Pakistani Taliban group Jaamat-ul-Ahrar, which has reportedly declared ties with Daesh (ISIS), took responsibility for the attack that killed 78 people and injured more than 300.
Christians in Pakistan have suffered a number of suicide bomb attacks on churches and public places, including the targeting of Churches in Youhanabad, Lahore in March 2015, where at least 15 people were killed and dozens were injured.
The archbishop noted that: "Security has been improved around our religious celebrations... But at the same time people are [still] a little frightened because, as happened last Easter, we know that we could well be attacked..."
Yet, he stressed that "the Year of Mercy has been a great blessing for the whole Church and especially for the Church in Pakistan... the prayers and the help of so many people who have reminded us that we in Pakistan are not alone...
"This Year of Mercy was a very special time. The Christians of Pakistan are champions of mercy."
When Archbishop Shaw attended ACN's annual Westminster Event last October, he spoke of the Easter Sunday attack and the prejudice against Christians in Pakistan which includes the presence of 'hate' material in their state school curriculum. Despite these challenges, he described the Catholic community in Pakistan as: "vibrant, open and patriotic, as [people] wanting a better society."
Pakistan's 190 million population is overwhelmingly Islamic, with Christians making up just two percent. The archbishop's diocese is the largest in Pakistan, with more than 450,000 Catholic faithful in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab region.
He said: "We are a very tiny minority, yet at the same time we are a very living Church. The great majority of the Christians are very poor, but we are very rich in our faith."
He thanked ACN for translating the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Urdu, enabling Pakistani Catholics to learn more about their religion.
"You have been helping us to raise up the Church, not only the physical building, but the body of the Church, bringing hope and faith, and especially with the training for catechists and with catechetical material, such as Bibles in the Urdu language."
Archbishop Shaw concluded: "We need the light of Christ to illuminate our path and so that darkness - war and discrimination - may be defeated."