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Pakistan

 

ACN Feature Story: Pakistani government-run schools – harsh environment for Christians

10.05.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Pakistan

Pakistan

Government-run schools are a harsh environment for Christians

NOMAN is a young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, he talks about the discrimination and mistreatment he experienced at school because of his Christian faith. Here is Noman’s story:

by Tabassum Yousaf,  for ACN International

“I am a first-year student of business. My hobbies include cricket and soccer. I am a Christian.

No one in my family has been kidnapped or victimized by violence, but I have faced discrimination from classmates and teachers because of my religion.

“When I reported a Muslim classmate for cheating, the teacher said: ‘He doesn’t cheat. You did it.’ The classmate called me ‘bhangie’, which means ‘street sweeper’ or ‘gutter cleaner’; he made fun of me and used words that were disrespectful of my faith. But I could not respond in kind. If I had done so, I could’ve been charged with blasphemy, and my family would have suffered. So I stayed silent.

 

“Both my teacher and my principal were well-aware of the situation. My mother was called in to speak with my teacher, but they were not ready to listen to my version of what happened. They even refused to give me a form that the school required for exams—so one year of my studies was wasted.

“But I am thankful to God, who has not abandoned my family. He was there when a friend of my mother offered to pay for my education, which my parents could not afford at the time. The happiest moment of my life was when I completed High School; I was the first person to do so in my family.

“I now study business at a government college. I attend classes for half the year; I spend the other half working as a salesman at the mall, because it is hard for my father to cover all the family’s living expenses. Even in hardship, God has never forsaken me. He has always helped and loved me. God and my family, especially my mother, are the reasons for my happiness.

 

“Despite what I’ve experienced, I believe that I will be successful. And when I worry, I recite Psalm 23; I always carry a rosary with me as well.

“Western countries should support poor Pakistani Christian students with housing and academic opportunities, so that they can at least lead better, more stable lives. Otherwise, I have no hope for Pakistan’s minorities remaining in the country. If I could gather all of the world’s leaders in one room, I would say that I only want free education for our children.”

ACN Project of the Week – Helping the poor build a church in Pakistan

02.05.2019 in CONSTRUCTION, Construction, Pakistan, Pakistan

Project of the Week in Pakistan

Help us to complete a church in Issanagri

Issanagri is a village in Pakistan lying within the parish of the Assumption, which itself is based in the village of Chak 7, in the diocese of Faisalabad. The parish as a whole has a total of 6,000 Catholic faithful, while Issanagri itself has around 300 Catholic families, or approximately 1,500 Catholics.

This village is around a 10 km distance from the centre of the parish making it a long walk to the parish church. Issanagri already has a small chapel of its own, but it is far too small for the number of the faithful who need access it.

Interestingly, the Catholic faithful have taken initiative and have begun building a larger church, making great sacrifices to do so.  They have been collecting money, though poor themselves, and work hard on the building site even though they already have to work very hard to support their families. But despite all their efforts and hard work, they have so far only managed to build part of the church. Holy Mass is still being celebrated in the open air, between the partly built walls, where there is no shelter from the scorching sun or torrential rain, or indeed the biting cold that can still be felt in winter, even in Pakistan.

The parish priest, Father Waseem Walter, has written to ACN for help so that they can finally complete their church. He writes, “It is urgently necessary to build this church.“ We have promised him our help, and his people were overjoyed to learn that we are willing to support them. Now we need YOUR HELP to raise the $16,500 we have promised.

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

To learn a little more about the overall situation for Catholics in Pakistan, where Christians make up a mere 2% of the population, please visit or Religious Freedom Report 2018 on line.

ACN Feature Story: Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

04.12.2018 in By Amanda Griffin, Pakistan, Religious Freedom Report, Shahbaz Bhatti

Christians living in ‘7 lanes’ district of Gulshan Iqbal Town, came under fire from Muslim extremists displaced to the neighbourhood from the tribal area bordering Pakistan. The Christian community erected walls blocking the seven lanes for security after a spate of killings and other violence.

Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

Pakistan. A country where the Christian minority experiences terrible persecution and discrimination, simply because of their faith.

One tool of discrimination used against Christians or other minorities is the “Blasphemy Law”.  In 1986, the so-called blasphemy law was enacted in Pakistan. In principle, the law protects all religions from offences, but it provides for severe and draconian punishments to offences and blasphemies against Islam: and the 1,300 people along the way accused of transgressing the blasphemy laws since it was instated. A simple suspicion or a statement would be enough to imprison a person, and the burden of proof is placed on the accused, who is left to prove his, or her, innocence. So far, no one who has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death has actually been executed. Though one significant case that drew worldwide attention almost saw it through. It involved a woman named Asia Bibi.

 

Asia Bibi, Christian mother of five

Ms. Bibi, a Christian woman from a simple village, living a simple life as a mother of five children—and who in fact has never even left her small surroundings even to go to the capital of Islamabad—when one day a small action on her part would devastate her entire life, giving rise to accusations of blasphemy.  The accusation was followed by a mob attacking her in the streets along with her young daughter–they were beaten and finally Ms. Bibi was arrested.  Having no credibility, as a woman and as a Christian within the Pakistani legal system, she was found guilty of blasphemy and placed on death row where she remained in isolation and awful conditions for the better part of 10 years until very recently.

Eisham Ashiq, 19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi, & Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi during their October 2018 visit to the UK as guests of Aid to the Church in Need.

On October 31, 2018 – after her appeal to overthrow the death penalty was pushed back many times because judges were unwilling to hear the case, it is assumed for fear of reprisals.  She was finally and joyously for her family and supporters around the world–acquitted of the crime, found not guilty.  But she could not be freed from her imprisonment, not let out to be with her family because riots and unrest demanding she be put to death for her crime, ensued in the country.

Unfortunately, even if she is now out of prison, she has still not been able to be with her family for the threats of violence  persist.  Recent arrests of protest leaders have maintained the ongoing threat to her life.

Like in other moments of Pakistan’s recent history, this mass reaction to uphold the death sentence demonstrates the gravity of the situation local Christians in Pakistan find themselves in. In the past, and during Asia Bibi’s trial, other brave people spoke out for her freedom and minority rights. Many were silenced for doing so, and ultimately some were assassinated. This calls to mind a brave Christian man named Shahbaz Bhatti.

 

Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs

His courageous pursuit towards realizing his dream of religious freedom and equality for all led him in 2008 to being appointed Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs. Within a short time, he managed to introduce a law guaranteeing minorities a five-percent share of public posts, including parliament.  He became personally involved in difficult issues confronting ordinary people, and in particular sensitive to the two percent minority Christian community. He spoke out for the voiceless, and for among others, Asia Bibi. His open criticism about the misuse of the blasphemy law resulted in an ever-growing number of threats and although conscious of the mounting very real danger, he very bravely did not back down from his commitment to help discriminated religious minorities.

On March 2, 2011, his car was sprayed with gunfire outside his Islamabad home. Twenty-seven bullets found their target.

 

A cemetery in Gojra, diocese of Faisalabad – grave of Shahbaz Bhatti -Pakistan 2011 Photo: Magdalena Wolnik

 

Two years before his death, in yet another quote from a book that has become his spiritual testament, Bhatti wrote, “My human body is wounded but these wounds are not physical wounds, they are the wounds of worry, of grief, of the sorrows and pains of the persecuted Christians of Pakistan, of the needy and the oppressed Christians. We are one family with the people who are in need. Thus as a family we should share the sorrows, the griefs and the sufferings of each other.” I am deeply convinced that these words remain equally relevant today, as much to me, as to us all.

Now Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said of him that he was “a man with a dream, with a vision, that people of different faiths can live here together.”

 

Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab

Another brave man assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law. On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was assassinated in Islamabad by his bodyguard, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

 

Pakistan, May 2017  Women and children during Holy Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.

The abduction and rape of women as a tool

Another tool used to discriminate and persecute Christians, Christian women in particular, according to the Religious Freedom in the World Report released recently by Aid to the Church in Need International*, the abduction of women in minorities is also on the rise in 2018. Often, authorities tell parents the girl has converted and married of her own free will. Many families don’t report the crime, or withdraw the case, because of threats against other women and girls in the family.

 

Such abductions are part of a wider pattern of sexual violence against religious-minority women: more powerless before courts than Muslim women, they are a soft target as rapists know prosecution is unlikely. If a woman cannot prove sex happened against her will, she can be accused of adultery and face arrest, flogging or even stoning to death. For this reason, many women are frightened to report sexual violence committed against them or their loved ones.

 

Mr. Bhatti’s call for prayers for freedom of religion and equality along with so many other brave souls have finally made a difference for Asia Bibi and her family who have never ceased advocating, fighting and praying for her. Reunited, but still awaiting a firm invitation from a safe country, like Canada.

 

Pakistan, May 2017 – At the St. Joseph’s Colony. Visit of the St. Joseph’s Colony, located in a Christian-dominated neighborhood of Lahore, where an enraged mob torched dozens of houses following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man in March 2013. It appeared that the man had been falsely accused of blasphemy.

To learn more about the volatile and increasingly dangerous situation of Christians in Pakistan, the Pakistani penal code and the “blasphemy laws” introduced in 1986, please consult the full length Religious Freedom in the World Report 2018 with extensive data on the subject compiled on the international website where you can view by country: Pakistan.

By Amanda Griffin, ACN CANADA
Sources: ACN Religious Freedom Report 2016 and 2018, the Catholic Register and various ACN Press articles
*Other sources: Human Rights Council of Pakistan and the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan

ACN NEWS: ASIA BIBI CONCERNED FOR THE SAFETY OF HER DAUGHTERS

30.11.2018 in ACN International, ACN Italy, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Pakistan, Religious freedom

Pakistan

ASIA BIBI IS CONCERNED FOR THE SAFETY OF HER DAUGHTERS

“WE ARE AFRAID!” SAYS JOSEPH NADEEM, THE MAN WHO IS SHELTERING HER FAMILY TELLS ACN: “IN THE LAST FEW DAYS THE ISLAMISTS HAVE SHOT AT THE GATEWAY OUTSIDE OUR HOUSE. WE HOPE TO BE ABLE TO FIND A PLACE OF SECURITY SOON, PERHAPS EVEN IN ROME FOR CHRISTMAS.”

United Kingdom, 09.10.2018
Eisham Ashiq (19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi)

“We are afraid. In the last few days they have shot at the gate outside the house where we were living. We face constant threats, and more than once I have been followed.” Such is the frightening situation being endured by the daughters of Asia Bibi, as reported to ACN by Joseph Nadeem, the man who has been sheltering her family ever since this Christian woman was sentenced to death for blasphemy. Given that Asia and her husband are practically illiterate, it is Nadeem who has been helping them with legal support and accompanying her husband Asihiq and younger daughter Eisham in their travels abroad, giving testimony of their experiences.

Today Joseph Nadeem and his family are themselves in danger and living in hiding together with the daughters of Asia Bibi. “Just as soon as Asia was acquitted, we were forced to flee,” he recalls. “Asia and her husband are currently in a place of safety, protected by the government, but we could not remain with them,” he explains. Ever since then Joseph Nadeem and his family, together with the two daughters of Asia, have had to keep on the move, changing homes four times so far. “The Islamists keep hunting us down, and every time we find we are in danger, we have to move on immediately. We cannot go out openly to buy food. I only ever go out by night and with my face covered,” Joseph Nadeem tells ACN.

Daily talks on the phone

Asia is aware of their difficult situation. “I met her as soon as she was acquitted, and every day we speak on the telephone together. She is very concerned for the safety of her daughters.” The two girls, Esha and Eisham, have not even have the chance to embrace their mother since her acquittal, but finally, even if only by telephone, they have been able to spend a few minutes talking to her daily. “I will never forget their first telephone call,” Joseph recalls. “Esha and Eisham wept for hours for sheer joy and relief. Asia cannot wait to see them again, and I am still hoping we can all leave the country very soon, together with Asia and her husband.”

Pakistan: A man sits in a Christian quarter of Multan, the town where Asia Bibi was held prisoner.

Nevertheless, their nightmare is still far from over. Asia Bibi has shown extraordinary strength and courage. “She is a remarkable woman! She has retained an unshakable faith and infinite trust in the Lord. It may sound strange, but it is she who has supported us in these difficult moments. She urges us not to get discouraged and tells us that in comparison with what she has been through so far, this is only a brief moment that will pass.”

Nadeem and the two girls are well aware of the flood of information and interest that her mother’s case has aroused around the world, and they have been able to talk to Asia herself about it. “The international attention and solidarity are a source of comfort for us. Eisham was profoundly moved when she saw her video message projected on the buildings of Venice, illuminated in red light. All of us, Asia included, are grateful to all those who have raised their voices in protest about our situation.”

“We are hoping to be able to leave Pakistan soon and live in a safe place. ACN was the first organization to offer us hospitality. And we are hoping that our two families will be able to spend this Christmas in Rome, together with you all.”

 

ACN News: Pakistan Asia Bibi – almost 10 years of suffering for her and her family

19.10.2018 in ACN UK, Pakistan

Pakistan

Asia Bibi – almost 10 years of suffering for her and her family

United Kingdom, October 2018
Interview with Eisham Ashiq (19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi) and Ashiq Masih (husband of Asia Bibi). Invited to the UK by the AED, Ashiq and Eisham Masih agreed to share the story of their wife and mother.

Nine years. That is how long Asia Bibi has spent in prison and on death row for an alleged blasphemy – which she has always denied. It is also how old her daughter Eisham was, back in June 2009, when she witnessed an enraged crowd beating her mother. Now 18, she met with ACN on Saturday 13 October in London, accompanied by her father, Ashiq Masih.

 

«We last saw Asia on Monday 1st October, before coming to the United Kingdom. She is well, physically and spiritually », her husband, Ashiq Masih, told ACN on Saturday 13 October in London. « After being accused of blasphemy, she has suffered, her whole family has suffered, for almost 10 years now. But by the grace of God, we hope she will very soon be set free », he added.

 

Invited to visit the UK by ACN, Ashiq and Eisham Masih agreed to come and share the story of their wife and mother. « Asia Bibi has been in prison for almost 10 years now», Ashiq recalled. « It’s a terrible thing for a husband and for a child. We have come here today to bear witness, to speak up and be a voice for Asia Bibi, who has been falsely accused of blasphemy. She has asked me to urge you to remember her in your prayers, to pray that she may very soon be set free. » Asia was accused of having « insulted » the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with two Muslim women from her village, who had refused to drink water from a glass that she had just used. Asia Bibi is the first woman to have been sentenced to death under Pakistan’s draconian anti-blasphemy laws.

 “Asia Bibi has been in prison for almost 10 years now”, recalls Ashiq. “It’s terrible for a spouse, for a child. We are here to testify, to carry the voice of Asia Bibi, wrongly accused of having blasphemed.”

Unwavering fidelity

Now that Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which is Asia Bibi’s last hope, has stated on Monday 8 October, that it intends to « reserve its decision for the moment », her family members remain, are determined to remain, resolutely optimistic. « We believe that the Supreme Court judges intend to find in her favour », they insist. It is a conviction that is bolstered by a solid legal case and also on the astounding and unwavering hope of this family, who confess that they draw their strength « from the Lord Jesus Christ, who hears the prayers of those who suffer ».

 

Yet there are all too many reasons for despair for this family, who have been forced to live in hiding in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject. Mere allegations of blasphemy regularly end up with the lynching of those accused, and Christians are frequently targeted, as a persecuted minority.

 

Ever since its statement on Monday 8 October, Islamist fundamentalists have been demanding that the Supreme Court carry out the sentence pronounced against Asia Bibi by the two lower courts, namely death by hanging. An absolute wave of violence has been unleashed on social networks: « If you free Asia Bibi, prepare yourselves for more Mumtaz Qatris », is their sinister threat. Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged in 2016, was the man who assassinated Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, on 4 January 2011, for having publicly spoken up in defence of Asia Bibi and for criticising the anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan. These laws were introduced by the British at the time when the British Indian Empire included what is today the country of Pakistan. Since 1986, under the dictatorship of General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988), this controversial legislation has made blasphemy punishable by the death penalty.

«We cannot remain in Pakistan»

Besides, Ashiq is quite lucid in recognizing that « everyone is afraid; everyone is facing threats – the supporters of Asia Bibi, her lawyers, her judges. » Nevertheless, one can see that he is proud of living in Pakistan, among the Muslims, who represent almost 96% of the population. He goes on to add, « not all of them are in favour of the execution of Asia Bibi. There are many people who understand that we are suffering. But the extremists, and the fundamentalist organisations are also very numerous. » Numerous, and extremely vindictive, as Father Emmanuel Yousaf, the president of the Justice and Peace commission of the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Conference, emphasizes.

 

And so, it is with a heavy heart that Ashiq acknowledges that his family can no longer remain in Pakistan. And while he is not revealing the place of their exile, he nonetheless continues to trust in providence: « God will take care of Asia Bibi and her family. He will find us a peaceful place. God will choose for us. » A peaceful place, from which her daughter Eisham is determined to continue her studies in law in order to become a barrister, and so to be able to help the poorest and those accused of blasphemy.

 

by Pierre Macqueron (ACN France)

 

 

 

 

 

ACN Project of the Week – Protecting Seminarians in Pakistan

30.11.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Pakistan, Project of the Week

Pakistan

Protecting the seminarians

Attacks against Christians are a regular occurrence in Pakistan today. Almost every priest in the country has at some time received anonymous threatening phone calls or letters. Even the bishops of the country receive threatening letters, demanding that they convert to Islam.

Attacks on churches and Church properties are frequent and increasing – and sometimes they are much more serious than simply stone throwing. There have also been suicide attacks, bomb attacks, armed attacks, arson attacks and assaults by angry mobs and the danger is a real and constant one. Many churches are under police protection, and the government has required the Church to take increased security measures.

 

In 1995, the diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi opened a minor seminary in Lalazar, where young men who are contemplating a vocation to the priesthood undergo a preliminary three years of training, before entering the major seminary. Right now, there are 22 young seminarians living and studying at Our Lady of Lourdes Minor Seminary where they are introduced to the spiritual life.

 

The seminary is already surrounded by a wall, which has however, collapsed in places, so that unauthorized persons can easily gain access to the grounds. In a country like Pakistan, where terrorism and violence are everywhere, this is a great danger, particularly for the members of the embattled Christian minority. The wall needs to be repaired and rebuilt; it must be made higher and stronger to protect those within them.

 

Unfortunately, the seminary itself which has been standing for over 20 years now, has also had to have some essential repair and renovation work done in recent years. And so the diocese has turned to ACN for help to rebuild and reinforce the seminary enclosure wall. We have already promised $25,550.

 

If you would like to contribute to supporting a similar
project funded by ACN, please click to donate!

 

ACN Project of the Week: Pastoral care in for families in Pakistan

28.07.2017 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN PROJECTS, Family Apostolate, Pakistan, Pakistan, Pastoral work

Pakistan

Supporting Pastoral care for families

 

The diocese of Hyderabad is located in the southern part of Pakistan and covers a vast territory of over 137,000 km². 

Here live an extraordinarily minority group made up of about 50,000 Catholics, many of whom belong to ethnic minorities, among a population of 28 million Muslims, many of who were formerly Hindus.

These groups find themselves at the very bottom rungs of society, often condemned to work as labourers in the fields of big landowners or as brick makers in the brick furnaces. Generally speaking, they find themselves entirely at the mercy of their wealthy masters. Some also perform menial tasks like street sweeping or toilet cleaning in the towns and are paid very irregularly.  Understandably, because of this financial instability, families often fall into debt. Should a family member fall ill or lose his job, or if his employer fails to pay his wages, the entire family will be forced to borrow money often at extortionate interest rates, resulting of courser in ever deeper debt and thrusting them into a vicious spiral of poverty and dependency. Many families have become trapped for generations in this cycle of debt slavery. It is a very heavy and crushing burden for many people.

 

Bishop Samson Shukardin writes: “Just to put something on the table each day is a daily battle and a daily reality for these families. The spiral of poverty, unemployment and indebtedness drives many into drug addiction and other forms of dependency and brings upon their families a veritable plague of conflict, arguments, discord and in many cases domestic violence.”

 

It is the bishop‘s deepest wish to help these families hold together in these difficult circumstances, and live their Christian faith in such a way that peace, harmony and love prevail within them. To fulfill this heartfelt wish, he has established a program to strengthen and support married couples and their families.

 

 

Under the direction of a Sister who has spent 25 years working with family apostolate, and with the help of trained and experienced married couples, courses and meetings are being offered in all 17 parishes of the diocese, for young soon to be engaged couples, for married couples in the process of establishing their family and for family groups in general. Topics included among others:  How to be good parents? How can family pray together? How do couples learn how to communicate and respect one another? How can we establish a Christian marriage and a Christian family life, based on the Sacraments?

“They have my full backing and support,” writes the bishop stated in a letter to us, “since the welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and of the Church.”

“Only if we nurture the Christian life of families and support them pastorally will the Church be faithful to her mission as a light to the nations.”

 

We have promised an amount of $18,488 to help in funding these courses for families and married couples in the 17 parishes of the diocese.

Thank you for supporting these Christians in Pakistan!

 

 


 

ACN Project of the Week: Help for attack victims

13.04.2017 in Journey with ACN, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians

ACN Success Story:

Help for attack victims of a church in Pakistan

In March 2015 an appalling suicide attack on St John‘s Church in Youhanabad on Christians killed 20 people and wounded another 80 people.

The families are all poor, many have lost their main breadwinner or now have to pay for expensive medical treatment. Your help has enabled the purchase of medicines, food and other necessities easing some of the most immediate basic needs.

If this particular attack killed many, the toll of victims could have been higher had it not been for the courageous actions of one man, 20-year-old Akash Bashir, who had volunteered for sentry duty outside the church. He spotted the suicide bomber who was wearing an explosive belt underneath his clothing before he had the chance to enter the church, and managed to wrestle him to the ground. The attacker detonated his suicide belt, killing himself and young Akash instantly, but without entering the church. Young Akash undoubtedly saved numerous lives – there were 600 people inside the church. His family was also among those we were able to help, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors. His parish priest, Father Francis Gulzar says, “Words cannot describe the sorrow we feel at the loss of this hero and martyr. Thousands of people came to his funeral, to pay their last respects to him and to all who died in this attack.”

 

Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore has expressed his gratitude for this aid and paid tribute to our work “ACN is not only an aid agency, but a sort of movement that encourages people to be merciful, to trust and to pray. ACN supports us in our difficulties with prayers and good words; it helps the victims who are in need of mercy, it helps us in many ways with works of mercy and it thereby also helps us to help others to be merciful.”

$29,000 generously donated by our benefactors, has gone to help the victims of the  attack on St John‘s Church 

 


ACN Interview : Christians of Pakistan, “Champions of Mercy”

04.01.2017 in ACN Interview, ACN Intl, Pakistan

Pakistan

Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore calls Christians of Pakistan, “Champions of Mercy”

 

“Happy Christmas to all the benefactors of ACN, and thank you for all your help, ”Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore, the largest diocese in the whole of Pakistan.

Archbishop Shaw in 2010

A Franciscan and a member of the Order of Friars Minor, Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore, heads a diocese of over 450,000 Catholic faithful in the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab region. He was speaking to Josué Villalón of ACN (Aid to the Church in Need).

 

The year 2016 has been a difficult one for Pakistani Christians, during which they suffered one of the worst jihadist attacks last Easter Sunday. An Islamist terrorist blew himself up in the central Gulsan Iqbal Park in Lahore, leaving behind 78 dead and over 300 injured. Yet at the same time it has been a year of hope. The Year of Mercy initiated by Pope Francis has been lived with great intensity by the Catholics of Pakistan.

 


 

ACN: How is the present situation in Lahore?

Mons. Sebastian Shaw: It appears to be a little better. Security has been improved around our religious celebrations. The people are cheerful and motivated. They have prepared themselves spiritually for the Christmas feast, and they are very happy to be able to celebrate these feasts. But at the same time people are a little frightened because, as happened last Easter, we know that we could well be attacked during the Christmas season.

 

ACN: Apart from the fear of possible attacks, how do people celebrate Christmas in Pakistan?

The truth is that the people love to celebrate Christmas. They decorate their homes with stars, and on 16 December they begin a Christmas novena. And of course they also go shopping, like everyone else in the world.

 

ACN: What is the meaning of the stars that the Christians in Pakistan put up for Christmas?

In Pakistan Christians put up stars in their homes, in the streets, in the churches and schools in order to show that Jesus Christ is the Light who has come into the world and express their hope that by this light the darkness will disappear. The darkness that is war, that is discrimination. We need the light of Christ to illuminate our path and so that darkness may be defeated. So we put up stars as a symbol of our faith in Christ.

 

ACN: What is the importance of the Christians of Pakistan for the Church and for the rest of the world?

Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Islamic country with a population of around 190 million, in which Christians make up just 2%. We are a very tiny minority, yet at the same time we are a very living Church. The great majority of the Christians are very poor, but we are very rich in our faith. They are really interested in the Word of God and there are very committed laypeople involved in the work of catechesis who are helping young people and married couples to live their faith with fervour. For example, this Year of Mercy was a very special time. The Christians of Pakistan are champions of mercy. I recall that one day, after celebrating Holy Mass I went up to a married couple to give them my blessing. They told me that my homily on mercy and pardon had helped them greatly, since they had lost a son in the attack in the Gulsan Iqbal Park on Easter Sunday and that they had forgiven the suicide bomber who blew himself up in that attack.

 

ACN: What is your assessment of the year 2016 which is now coming to an end?

We experienced some very difficult moments, such as the terrorist attack in Gulsan Iqbal Park, but the people are getting back on their feet. The Year of Mercy has been a great blessing for the whole Church and especially for the Church in Pakistan. We celebrated many encounters of dialogue between the religions. We give thanks to the Pope for this Year of Mercy, and for the prayers and the help of so many people who have reminded us that we in Pakistan are not alone.

 

ACN: How are the relations with other religious groups?

This is the moment to promote increased dialogue between religions, and especially with Islam, which is growing greatly, including in Europe. I’m very proud of the good relations we have with the leaders of other religions. We celebrate each other’s festivals; they celebrate Christmas with us and we also celebrate the end of Ramadan with them. But in order for there to be a genuine dialogue it is important that our young people are well instructed in the Word of God. It is also important for there to be unity among Christians. It is important to teach the Bible to the young people, not so that they know it by heart, but to put it into practice through love for neighbour.

 

ACN: What are the principal needs of the Church in Pakistan?

Education is important to us. We especially want to make it possible for young Christians to go to university. Even though it’s very difficult, because it requires a lot of money and the Christian families are very poor. We also need to rebuild the churches and mission stations. We need to renovate our seminary. We have many vocations and we need to extend it. At present we have 34 young men in the minor seminary, 12 studying philosophy and 10 theology.

 

ACN: What does the help of ACN mean to the Church in Pakistan?

We are extremely happy and grateful to ACN. You have been helping us to raise up the Church, not only the physical building, but the body of the Church, bringing hope and faith, and especially with the training for catechists and with catechetical material, such as Bibles in the Urdu language. I ask Christ, who has come into the world, to bless all the families. I pray for them and wish them prosperity and peace.

 


 

Project of the Week: Enhanced security to protect against terrorism in Pakistan

07.12.2016 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Journey with ACN, Pakistan, Project of the Week

Pakistan

Enhanced security measures to protect against terrorism 

Horrific terrorist attacks occur time and again in Pakistan. Christians are not the only victims of terrorism, but Christian churches and other institutions are particularly at risk.

One of the places that has suffered most in this respect has been the archdiocese of Lahore in northeast Pakistan.

In March 2008 the Sacred Heart Cathedral was seriously damaged, along with several Catholic schools and leaving 30 people dead and nearly 250 injured. The bookshop belonging to the Sisters of St Paul on the same site was also almost completely destroyed. Later, during the Christmas season of the same year,  another planned attack on the cathedral during Midnight Mass occurred but this time, a bomb detonated prematurely and the disaster was prevented at the very last minute.

On a March Sunday morning (the 15th) , two bombs went off almost simultaneously in a Christian quarter of Lahore called Youhanabad. One detonated outside a Catholic church and the other outside a Protestant church. Both had within their walls hundreds of people who had gathered to pray. In this instance, around 20 people were killed and 80 people injured. The fact that more people were not killed in the Catholic St John’s Church was only thanks to the quick-witted courage of a young man of 20 who managed to bring down the attacker who was wearing a suicide belt, before he succeeded in getting into the church. The attacker then blew himself up, killing the young man at the same time. By this courageous act of self-sacrifice this young man undoubtedly saved numerous lives, since there were no fewer than 600 people inside the church.

 

PAKISTAN / NATIONAL 16/00585 Urgent security measures for St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary, Yohannabad, Lahore: Welcome to St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary


Urgent security measures for St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary, Yohannabad, Lahore: Welcome to St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary

 

In 2016, on Easter Sunday, suicide bombers attacked again. This time, the attacks were in a Lahore park where hundreds of Christians had gathered to celebrate Easter with their families after attending Holy Mass. The attack took place close to a children’s playground. Over 70 people were killed that day. Many of them, children.

Now the Pakistani government is demanding that those buildings which particularly at risk – including churches and Church-based institutions – take care of increasing their own security measures. If they do not meet these requirements they can be closed down. One such institution that is particularly threatened is the seminary of St Francis Xavier in Lahore, also in the Youhanabad quarter of the city that was targeted the previous year in the two suicide attacks on Christian churches. The seminary has already received a number of threats. At present there are 73 seminarians from all over the country studying and living there, as well as 23 religious brothers who attend lectures at the seminary during the daytime – in all almost a hundred young men and future priests.

The seminary must urgently increase the height of the surrounding perimeter wall, and repair previously existing damage to it. At the same time, the walls have to be protected with barbed wire and a watchman must be employed. If they do not do this, they are leaving themselves open not only to terrorists breaking into the grounds, but also to the government closing down the seminary for failing to implement the required security measures.

The rector of the seminary, Father Asif John writes: “The lack of security is both a challenge and a threat to us. Our seminary is dependent on the help of kind people. We do not have the resources to complete such a project.

ACN has  promised 29,000 CAN!

 

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