Welby Defies Officials To Visit Persecuted Christians In Pakistan

The Archbishop of Canterbury rejected foreign office advice not to visit persecuted Christians in Pakistan over the weekend.

Justin Welby met with terror victims in Lahore and Islamabad to pray after 72 were killed in a suicide attack aimed at Christians on Easter Sunday. It is the first time any Archbishop of Canterbury has visited Pakistan more than once.

Archbishop Justin at Christ Church, Youhanabad, Pakistan, on SundayLambeth Palace

Welby urged Pakistan to step up security for persecuted Christians. On Saturday he met with the Prime Minister's foreign advisor to discuss religious freedom and protections for religious minorities.

"Freedom of religion and belief and the persecution of Christians and other minorities must lead to our support for those affected in every way," a statement from Lambeth Palace read.

Welby was invited on the trip by Bishop Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan, who said the Archbishop had defied official advice in order to attend.

"The archbishop [came] contrary to the advice of his own Foreign Ministry [and] contrary to the advice of the British High Commission and took a very major and drastic decision that in spite of all the negativities which was being given to him to postpone this visit, he said he would still go there," said Bishop Azariah according to ACNS. "He was determined to visit Pakistan. He was advised not to attend the church in Islamabad but he said that he would go there and as an Archbishop visiting a province how could he not go to the church and not meet his people.

"So we want to thank him from the depth of our heart. We are grateful to the Communion for thinking of us and praying for us, for a church which is struggling, for a church which is marginalised, for a church which comes under suffering, but a church which lives with hope – with hope in God's great grace."

Justin Welby's priority was to meet with victims of terror attacks.Lambeth Palace

Welby's priority was to visit victims of terror, said Azariah. On Saturday he spoke at St Thomas Church in Islamabad, in a service attended by families and victims of the suicide bombings at All Saints Peshawar in September 2013.

Then on Sunday he led an Ecumenical Sunday service at the Central Cathedral of Praying Hands in Lahore, with the bishops of the Church of Pakistan.

Although Christianity is technically legal, "Christians experience more violence in Pakistan than almost anywhere else," according to the persecution charity Open Doors.

Religious minorities are frequently targeted using the "infamous blasphemy laws" which Open Doors says are "abused to settle personal scores".

Last Easter Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group from the Taliban, killed 72 and wounded hundreds more in a suicide attack on a children's play area.