In his Sunday Angelus address Pope Francis lamented today’s terrorist attacks against two Christian churches — one of them Catholic — in Pakistan, and prayed that such violence will stop. “With suffering, with much suffering, I have learned of today's terrorist attacks against two churches in the city of Lahore, Pakistan, which have caused numerous deaths and injuries,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 15. Francis noted how both of the churches targeted, only a few meters apart, “are Christian churches, the Christians who are persecuted,” and grieved how “our brothers shed their blood solely because they are Christians.” In addition to praying for the victims and their families, Francis implored God “for the gift of peace and harmony for that country, and that this persecution against Christians — which the world tries to hide — will end, and that there will be peace.” Francis’ words came after what police believe to be two suicide bombers interrupted Sunday services at St. Joseph Catholic Church and Anglican Christ Church in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. Aljezeera news agency reports that at least 14 people were killed and 70 injured in the attacks, which are believed to have been timed during Sunday services to cause maximum damage. Jamatul Ahrar, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban, is said to have claimed responsibility for the attacks. Witnesses say there was a scuffle at the entrance gate of one of the churches between a security guard and another man, who blew himself up when he couldn’t get through to enter the church. Reports state that after hearing of the attacks, Christians in other areas of Pakistan took to the streets in protest, and killed two men they believed were behind the attacks. Before leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, Francis directed their attention to the day’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus tells Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” These words of Jesus are reminiscent of his death on the cross, and when we listen to them “we feel within ourselves that God loves us, truly loves us and loves us so much!” the Pope said. A simple expression that sums up the whole of the Gospel, faith and theology, he said, is that “God loves us freely and without limits.” Although God didn’t need man, he created him in order to have someone on whom he could bestow his goodness, Francis said, noting that the love of God is expressed in the first act of creation, and culminates in the Cross of Christ. The crucifixion and death of Jesus “is the supreme proof of God's love for us: Jesus loved us ‘unto the end,’ that is, not only until the final moment of his earthly life, but until the extreme limit of love,” he said. “If the Father proved his boundless love in creation by giving us life, he gave us the proof of proofs in the Passion of his Son: he came to suffer and die for us.” Pope Francis then pointed to the Holy Spirit as and additional pouring-out of God’s love. As a gift to man, the Spirit is a living memory of Christ, and works both inside the Church and out in order to foster authentic human values. He turned to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, saying that it is “the holiest and most effective sign of this love,” and noted how each in each Mass the Church relives Jesus’ death on Calvary, which he said is “the summit of the love story between God and his people.” Francis then turned to Mary, Mother of Mercy, as the woman capable of assuring man that he is loved by God, and led those present in the Angelus prayer.
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