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School massacre incites horror in Pakistani community

Banner candlelight prayer vigil in london on dec 17 2014 in memory of the 141 victims mostly school children at a peshawar school in pakistan credit dan kitwood getty images cna 12 17 14

Candlelight prayer vigil in London on Dec. 17, 2014 in memory of the 141 victims, mostly school children, at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

An Australian priest who spent more than 30 years in Pakistan has only one word for the impact of a Pakistani Taliban attack on a military school that left 141 victims, most of whom were children: “horror.” Fr. Robert McCulloch, general procurator of the St. Colomban's Mission Society to the Holy See, said the attack on the school will most likely be closely linked in the minds of Pakistanis “with the event that happened some four weeks ago when a Christian couple … were beaten up and thrown in alive into the furnace of a brick kiln.” With the woman being pregnant, the event “raised an intense level of horror and anger in Pakistan,” the priest said, adding that yesterday’s attack is only going to “cement the emerging feeling in Pakistan that this has nothing to do with what we should be doing as believers or as Pakistanis.” Now serving in Rome, Fr. McCulloch spent more than 30 years ministering in Pakistan, and received the Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam “For services to Health, Education and Inter-Faith Relations.” The honor marks the highest civilian award that can be given to foreign nationals. Local media reported that the Dec. 16 attack on a school in Peshawar committed by Pakistani Taliban militants left dead 132 children and nine adults from the school, as well as the seven attackers. Many survivors are wounded and being treated in hospitals. The attack has been widely condemned in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, the country's prime minister, traveled to the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, calling the violence a “national tragedy,” and declaring three days of mourning for the victims. The following day, Sharif's office announced he had decided to end a moratorim on the death penalty which has been in place since 2008. The moratium is lifted, however, only in cases related to terrorism. Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani education activist who was herself shot on her way from school in 2012 by the Pakistani Taliban, said: “I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters, but we will never be defeated.” Many of the nearly 1,100 students at the Army Public School in Peshawar are children of military personnel, though some are those of Pakistani civilians, and most are 16 or younger, though they range from 10 to 18. Reports indicate that the attackers entered the compound at 10 am, setting off a bomb and then opening fire indiscriminately. Army forces soon arrived, battling the militants and clearing the school of students and staff. The Pakistani Taliban control areas in the northwest of the country, opposing the national government and seeking to impose sharia. Peshawar is located 110 miles northwest of Rawalpindi, and is only 36 miles from the Afghan border. Fr. McCulloch explained that an act of such brutality “represents a statement that the Taliban are under threat in Pakistan,” particularly since it was enacted in a school attended by military families. The act, he said, “as I see it (was) a deliberate retaliation against the military.” In recent months, the Pakistani army has led operations against the Pakistani Taliban in its areas of control. Although there is no underestimating the presence and level of intensity of the Taliban in Pakistan, the priest said this new attack “has certainly turned public opinion, even political opinion, well and truly against the stance of the Taliban in the country.” He referred to how the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan also denounced the act, saying it displays the “dysfunction” that has taken place between the two groups in the last few years. At his Dec. 17 General Audience held in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis also denounced the attack, as well as the recent terror attacks at a café in Sydney in which two people were killed, and an attack against a school bus in Yemen that left at least 15 children dead. The Roman Pontiff asked pilgrims present for his address to join him in praying for the victims and their families. “May the Lord receive the departed into his peace, comfort their families, and convert the hearts of the violent who don't even stop in front of children.”

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