Five weeks after Islamic extremists gunned down 15 Pakistani Christians in a Sunday morning worship service, church leaders across Pakistan admitted that their congregations remain "tense and fearful" as Christmas approaches.

"My people are a bit afraid," said Bishop John Victor Mall of the Church of Pakistan. "I would not say they have lost their faith, but they have definitely lost their confidence."

Bishop Mall said many Christians are uneasy about attending traditional Advent programs this year in his diocese, which includes the Bahawalpur congregation attacked on October 28. Normally widely attended, the Christmas celebrations are often held in the evenings after dark, he noted.

The Protestant bishop said he met last week with Multan's deputy inspector general (DIG) of police, who promised stepped-up security arrangements for all the local churches' Christmas programs this year. "But the DIG cannot put many policemen everywhere," the bishop said. "Some Christians will be afraid to come."

Threats of a "Christmas bloodbath" against Christians have proliferated in Pakistan since late October, when the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization demanded the death of two Christians in retaliation for every Muslim killed in the U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan. Christians compose less than three percent of Pakistan's national population.

The Bahawalpur massacre, carried out by masked gunmen two days after the terrorist threat came out in Pakistani newspapers, was the worst single massacre of Christians in Pakistan's 54-year history. The slayers shouted Islamic slogans while mowing down their victims, declaring their attack "just the beginning" of making Afghanistan and Pakistan the "graveyard of Christians."

Within a week of the Bahawalpur ...

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