By Penny Mulvey
On Friday 20 September, 15 people died in a bomb attack in a Sunni mosque in Iraq. On Saturday 21 September, a group of highly organised Somali Islamist militants took control of a Kenyan shopping centre killing adults, young people and children who were enjoying a weekend excursion to the shops. On 22 September, Sunday worship at the magnificent All Saints Anglican Church in Peshawar in Pakistan came to a bloody end when two suicide bombers rushed the church doors.
And in the same week reports out of Nigeria pointed to another Islamist group, Boko Haram (who have launched regular guerrilla attacks to destabilise the government), accused of killing 159 people in two roadside attacks in the northeast of the country.
In all these instances, people were gathering to participate in common everyday rituals – worship, commuting and weekend shopping. These events are not supposed to end in bloodshed.
Christians are a tiny and politically weak minority in Muslim-majority Pakistan who suffer from prejudice and sporadic bouts of mob violence. However, the September attack by the Taliban, claiming at least 85 lives, was the worst atrocity committed upon Christians in Pakistan’s history.
Church leaders from around the world have issued statements of solidarity, urging prayer, for the people of Pakistan.
Uniting Church President Rev Prof Andrew Dutney has written to the Anglican Primate of Australia the Most Reverend Dr Phillip Aspinall “to express the Uniting Church’s solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ at this time of grief”.
In a statement posted on the Assembly website, Professor Dutney said, “I also endorse the World Council of Churches’ call to the government of Pakistan to protect all of its citizens regardless of their faith from those who are bent on dividing the country and causing suffering to the innocent.”
The U.S. Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori released a statement saying: “This act of violence is a reminder of the preciousness and fragility of life, and of our interconnectedness. We are all wounded, we have all lost family, friends, and fellow citizens of the world. We will continue to pray for the bereaved, for the injured, for the perpetrators, for their communities, and for this broken world.”
‘This broken world’ is shrinking as people travel extensively and social media provides constant updates.
How do we hold such shocking information in our heads and hearts when it is quickly replaced by other news?
How do we hold in balance our passion for football and our concern for this broken world?
Do we put up the shutters and just focus on our own little patch?
It somehow seems safer, less confronting, but then the other world comes crashing in. Our children and grandchildren stride out into this world, unafraid and full of adventure and optimism. Mostly they remain unscarred by their travels. But not always.
In August a Melbourne baseballer, on scholarship to an Oklahoma university, was shot dead in a random drive-by shooting. Six Australian backpackers have been accused of murdering a doorman whilst they were staying in a Peru hotel.
And in last month’s attack in Nairobi, an extraordinary young man and his equally gifted pregnant partner – he from Tasmania, she from the Netherlands – were two of more than 70 people killed in the violent assault and subsequent siege of the Westgate shopping centre. The architecture and medical research projects that both Ross Langdon and Elif Yavuz were involved in were significant.
Here in the Communications unit at the synod, we too have felt the impact of that event. Our own Andrew Juma is Kenyan. One of his good friends, Rosemary Wahito, also died in the terrorist attack. She too had much to offer her own community. Andrew knows at least four others who were either killed or injured by the al-Shabaab militia.
No doubt as you read this editorial, there will be other brutal atrocities being committed somewhere in this world. These acts do indeed remind us of the preciousness and fragility of life, as Bishop Katharine said.
We can either feel broken and helpless, or we can pray – pray for mourning family members; for distressed communities; for governments; for the perpetrators and for evil to be overcome by hope.