News

Pope Prays for Victims of Taliban's Horrific Massacre of School Children and Staff

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
18 Dec 2014

Anguished parents after the Pakistan Taliban killed 132 children and 9 staff at Peshawar's Army Public School

As the world reels in shock and horror at the latest deadly attack by Pakistan's Taliban on an army school in which hundreds of school children and staff were killed or injured, Pope Francis has joined mourners in prayers for the victims and their families.

"May God welcome the dead into his peace, comfort the families and convert the hearts of the violent ones who do not even stop before children," the Holy Father said.

The army-run school is in a military secured zone in the strategic north-western city of Peshawar.

Around 1000 students, boys and girls, from both army and civilian families attend the school. Police believe seven jihadists, all heavily armed and wearing suicide bomb vests, scaled a rear wall of the school and burst into an auditorium and classrooms shooting all in sight. Others had their throats slit or were beheaded and some were set alight.

Last night London held a candlelight vigil in memory of the 141 victims of the school
massacre in Peshawar

The militants were reported to be from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, an al-Qa'ida-affiliated terrorist group allied to but operating independently from the Taliban in Afghanistan.

By the time Pakistani troops had secured the building eight hours later, the gunmen had killed 132 children and nine staff members. However the death toll rose to 148 when another seven staff members died in hospital. A further 121 students and three staff were wounded.

The jihadists detonated their suicide vests and all were reported dead.

Even those used to living with terrorism in Pakistan have been shocked and horrified by the massacre believed to be in response to a recent military attack against the insurgents.

The Afghanistan Taliban have criticised the attack on children and distanced itself from their fellow Pakistani extremists while the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani immediately issued a statement condemning the massacre saying "the killing of children is contrary to Islam."

Across Pakistan and the rest of the world, the scale and brutality of this latest act of terrorist barbarism has been met with outrage and outrage and deep concern.

Condemning " human terrorist acts" not only in Pakistan but also in Yemen and this week in Sydney, Australia, Pope Francis exhorted pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square to join him in a moment of silent prayer for the victims.

Six days ago Al Qaeda's Sunnist extremists launched a bloody attack on Yemen's tribal Shiite Huthi militants killing dozens and wounding many more. But Al Qaeda leader Nasser Al-Wuhayshi who accuses the Huthis of being in league with the US and Iran to wipe destroy Yemen's Sunni Muslims has warned, this is only the beginning.

"To Huthis we say, brace yourselves for horrors that will make the hair of children turn white," he said.
 
Nobel Peace prize winner, Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head by the Pakistan Taliban two years ago for speaking out in favour of education for girls, said she was heartbroken by this "latest senseless and cold blooded act of terror."

"Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this," she said from her home in London where a candlelight vigil for victims of the massacre was held last night.

Australia's Mons Robert McCulloch Procurator General of St Colombans Missionary Society spent 30 years ministering to people of Pakistan

Describing the attack on the school as a "national tragedy," Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif immediately rushed to the area, and declared three days of national mourning.

The Pakistani military has also taken immediate punitive action and has launched massive air strikes across the border region.

For Cecil Chaudhry, Executive Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference, the massacre at the Army Public School was "a barbaric, inhuman and cowardly act."

"It is beyond imagination how innocent children of army personnel could be targeted like this," he told America's Catholic News Service.

Melbourne-born General Procurator of the St Colomban's Mission Society to the Holy See, Monsignor Robert McCulloch, who spent 30 years as a priest in Pakistan and who received the nation's highest civilian award, the Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam for services to health education and interfaith relations, believes the targeting of the army school and the scale of the attack reveals just how much the Taliban feels it is now under threat.

Although there is no underestimating of the presence and level of intensity of the Taliban in Pakistan, Mons McCulloch said this new attack had "certainly turned public opinion, and even political opinion, well and truly against the stance of the Taliban in Pakistan."

Although the Australian priest is now based in Rome he regularly visits Pakistan, and says the massacre at the school has raised an intense level of horror and anger among the Pakistani population.

He also believes in the minds of Pakistanis across the country, the attack on the school will be closely linked with the murder four weeks ago of a Christian couple who were beaten up by Taliban extremists and thrown alive into the furnace of a brick kiln.

Funerals have already begun as parents and families mourn the dead in Peshawar

The woman was pregnant and both she and her husband died a horrific death.

"This further horror will cement the emerging feeling in Pakistan that these acts have nothing to do with what we should be doing as believers or as Pakistanis," he says.

Meantime Australia is still shocked after coming face to face with terror when a self-styled sheik entered a popular cafe in Martin Place and held 17 hostages at gun point for 17 agonising hours.

Two of the hostages died along with the gunman and others were wounded when NSW police stormed the cafe in the early hours of Tuesday morning. That more lives were not lost is due to the bravery of the hostages and rescuers. 

In a very public outpouring of shock and grief people have covered Martin Place with floral tributes which NSW Premier Mike Baird referred to as "the collective pain" of the city and nation.