Christians and Muslims shaken by Jaranwala violence, Archbishop tells UK Parliament

A Pakistani archbishop painted a harrowing picture of the suffering of Christian families after last year’s riots and stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue in Westminster yesterday (29 January).

Speaking at a parliamentary event organised by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore recounted his meetings with traumatised people who lost everything during riots in Jaranwala, Punjab Province.

Archbishop Shaw visited Jaranwala after a mob of thousands went on a rampage targeting churches and Christian homes last summer. The archbishop told parliamentarians and others how shocked he was to see nothing but rubble and ashes in the place of homes, with people crying in desperation, having lost all their possessions.

The violence broke out on 16 August 2023 after two Christian men were falsely accused of desecrating the Qur’an. A mob of thousands torched and looted 26 churches and around 90 Christian homes, prompting the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference to describe the series of atrocities as “the worst tragedy against Christians” to have ever occurred in the country.

Archbishop Shaw said that “the fear created by the mob” lives on in the hearts of Jaranwala’s Christians and the community is not feeling safe, having witnessed “people breaking into their houses” and destroying everything they owned. But he expressed his gratitude to the Caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Chief Justice, the Chief Minister of Punjab, the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of the Army Staff for steps taken in the wake of the atrocity, including the provision of compensation to victims.

According to a report by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), out of the estimated 7,000 perpetrators, only about 300 were arrested for vandalism and arson by the end of last October, and at least 100 of them were later released. The archbishop said that there was reason to believe the attacks were pre-planned because of their coordinated nature and the use of sophisticated weapons, chemicals and other tools, including a crane.  He added that the police failed to respond adequately and “a lot more could have been done” before the violence spiralled out of control.

He explained that “Muslim and Christian leaders held a joint press conference the next day”, and one of the Muslim leaders apologised, with tears in his eyes, on behalf of Pakistani authorities for failing the protect the Christian minority which makes up only two percent of the country’s population.

A member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Archbishop Shaw stressed the importance of Christians and Muslims working together to promote a peaceful coexistence. ACN provided an aid package to help 464 families affected by the violence, as well as supporting the renovation of torched churches.


By Amy Balog.

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