Church leaders near bin Laden compound ask for increased security

By  Catholic News Service
  • May 6, 2011

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan - Church leaders demanded that the government boost security for their faith communities in the wake of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's death, which they fear will shatter the peace they have enjoyed for 10 years.

"There was a not a single bombing here for about a decade of the war on terror," Fr. Akram Javed Gill, chairman of the interdenominational Association of Churches of Hazara Division, told the Asian church news agency UCA News May 4. "Now we know the reason."

The church association, which includes the Catholic Church, met to discuss a future strategy in the area.

The priest, who has been in charge of the 150-member St. Peter Canisius Catholic Church in this northern military garrison since 2007, said activities at the parish have been limited after the death of bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks killed by U.S. special forces.

"I couldn't conduct pastoral visits to homes yesterday after security increased," Fr. Javed Gill said May 3. A healing prayer service and upcoming church feasts were cancelled. Also the four policemen posted a guard for the church have been put on high alert.

"It is crucial to maintain peace for the scattered minority communities in the area. We alter the venue at the last moment to avoid leaking the information about the gathering in a tense atmosphere," said Gill hours after the U.S. action.

The priest described the events as they unfolded during the raid.

"We never saw helicopters flying so low. Nobody knew what was going on, and we thought it was a military exercise at first," said the priest, who also oversees the only Catholic school, St. Peter's, in the city. About 200 students, most of them Muslims, study there.

The priest said he has faced difficulties in his work in Abbottabad, which is home to a large military establishment. He had to build higher walls to the church compound in 2009 after Muslims objected to the "open display" of the statue of Mary in a grotto in the grounds. Last year, the authorities asked him to burn several copies of a pamphlet inviting Catholics for Marian devotion.

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