An emotional funeral was held today at St Dominic's church in the town of Bahawalpur in Pakistan's Punjab province for members of the Church of Pakistan massacred inside the same church during yesterday's Sunday service.

Unidentified gunmen sprayed bullets on the Protestant congregation just before 9 A.M. local time on October 28 as participants were singing their closing hymn at this Catholic church used by the local Church of Pakistan congregation for its services.

At least sixteen worshippers were killed and many others injured. The church's pastor and a police officer on guard at the church gates were also left dead. The government had posted police security at the request of the Christian community, who felt they needed protection after the start of the United States-led military action against Afghanistan.

"We have been feeling very insecure [after the bombing of Afghanistan began on October 7] and now, our fears have come true," said Church of Pakistan Bishop John Victor Mall of the Multan diocese. "Though the government provided security to us, this shows how vulnerable we are."

Dominican nun Anna Bakshi, a witness to Sunday's shootings, said: "Not a single wall of the church is without bullet marks. Those who ran to the sacristy and hid themselves escaped unhurt."

Bakshi is the Principal of the Dominican convent school adjacent to the Catholic church. She said she was terrified by the gunfire coming from the church. She was one of the first to enter after the shootings.

"Everything was over in five minutes, and I saw four men with beards running away from the church," Bakshi said. "The scene inside the church was heart-breaking with even small children and women lying in pools of blood."

Roman Catholic Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan said: "The altar is riddled with bullet marks. They [the gunmen] have rained bullets on our people and there is blood all over the church."

Churches in Pakistan had been demanding that the government provide security to churches and Christian institutions, fearing that angry crowds would vent their ire on the minority Christian community if the U.S. and its allies attacked Afghanistan in the name of countering terrorism.

"We were concerned about our security but never thought that something of this sort would happen to us," said Bakshi. "I feel that this [the massacre] is retaliation for all that is happening in Afghanistan now."

The people are "so scared that they did not want to take the bodies to their homes," preferring to keep them at the church until the funeral was over because of the large police presence around the church after the massacre, the nun added.

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The funeral ceremony was attended by four bishops, including the moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop S.K. Dass. Nearly 5,000 people joined the funeral procession to the cemetery.

Bishop Dass described the massacre as an act of "revenge" by militant Islamic groups "thinking that Christians are supporters of America." No groups have claimed responsibility for the killings.

He added that continued attacks on Afghanistan would expose Christians to greater risk.

In a statement released on October 28, the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP) deplored "this heinous and barbarous act of terrorism" and demanded that "the Government of Pakistan should hold a judicial inquiry and arrest the culprits and bring them to justice."

"The Government of Pakistan should also take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of all, particularly the Christian community, shocked by this horrible action of the terrorists," the NCCP said.

The NCCP includes the Church of Pakistan, Presbyterian Church, Salvation Army, and Association of Reformed Presbyterian Churches and accounts for nearly half of the three million Christians in Pakistan.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack, blaming it on "trained terrorist organizations."

"The methods used and the inhuman tactics employed clearly indicates involvement of trained terrorist organizations bent upon creating discord and disharmony in Pakistan where Christians and Muslims have always lived in peace with mutual respect for each other," Musharraf said in his condolence message, according to the daily newspaper Dawn.

Mall said that the federal government has announced that it would offer 100,000 rupees (U.S.$1615) to relatives for each of those killed. The provincial state government of Punjab will contribute 200,000 rupees each (U.S.$3230) to the victim's families, as well as a smaller amount to the injured.

However, Victor Azariah, NCCP general secretary, said that the Christians in Pakistan need "more than monetary compensation. This is the worst attack on us [Pakistani Christians] in our history. We want the government to try its best to keep us safe."

The NCCP will hold an emergency meeting on October 31 to decide on church strategy for dealing with the "present situation," he added.

The Christian Liberation Front, an ecumenical advocacy group supported by both Catholic and Protestant churches, said that Christians "will not keep silent about this tragic, historic incident."

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In a letter to President Musharraf, the World Council of Churches (WCC), a fellowship of 342 churches worldwide, expressed concern "about the safety and security of the Christian minority in the present highly charged environment of religious intolerance."

In a statement released today, The National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), urged the government to take "steps to protect the minorities" in Pakistan. "We also affirm our solidarity with the National Council of Churches in Pakistan in this hour of crisis."

Related Elsewhere

Media coverage of the shootings includes:
Christians massacred in Pakistan — BBC
Gunmen Kill 16 at Pakistan Church — Associated Press
Pope Says Pakistan Church Attack an 'Evil Act' — Reuters
'Trained terrorists' behind Pakistan church slayings — BBC
Congregation Mourns Slain Christians — Associated Press
Pakistan tightens church securityChristian Science Monitor
Slain Christians mourned in Pakistan — BBC
Pakistan unrest sparks concernsUSA Today
At least 16 Gunned Down in Pakistani ChurchWashington Post
Pakistani Christians Mourn Friends — Associated Press

For more articles on the Oct. 28 massacre, see Yahoo! full coverage.