In Pakistan, arranged marriage is a common practice. Human trafficking groups regularly take advantage of the custom to pose as “matchmakers” for Chinese men. They entrap Christian girls-and their often very poor families-with the promise of a secure future and a husband who supposedly will provide every luxury. But once the girls are married and moved to China, they face severe, repeated abuse and the loss of personal autonomy. For a time this is how Mehak Parvez lived, but she managed to escape. She agreed to tell her story to Aid to the Church n Need:

“My name is Mehak Parvez. I was born in Punjab, Pakistan, and I work as a beautician in Islamabad. I came home to attend my cousin´s wedding. She married a Chinese man and many Chinese people were in attendance. A Chinese man liked me and asked me about my background. He told me he matched Chinese men with Pakistani Christian girl. He called me later about potential suitors.

Mehak Parvez.

Mehak Parvez.

“My family invited the man and three other Chinese men over; the matchmaker told me that I could choose one of them for marriage. He said that all three were financially secure and would return to China after the wedding. He promised my family and me that our greatest dreams would come true.

“Once I expressed interest, things moved quickly. My family asked for a month to prepare, but the matchmaker insisted that this wasn’t necessary, and the wedding was planned within two days. It was held on November 19, 2018 in Faisalabad; my husband and I moved to Lahore, where eight other Chinese men were living with their wives.

“I quickly noticed that something was seriously wrong. Though the matchmaker had told me that my husband was a Christian, I never saw him praying or reading the Bible. He didn´t provide money for meals, and he often beat me. He even confessed that he had only pretended to be Christian in order to get me to marry him.

“Some time passed, and I got in touch with young wives who had married Chinese men and were actually living in China. I joined their WhatsApp group and learned that about 1,200 Christian girls had been lured into marriage and were being treated inhumanely by their husbands. Those considered beautiful were sexually abused, and those considered average or ugly were bartered off.

“As soon as they told me this, I ran away and connected with a human rights activist named Saleem Iqbal. Saleem brings cases like mine to the attention of media, government agencies, and security forces. Thanks to his efforts, the matchmaker and his gang were arrested – 15 Chinese nationals, including a woman, were charged with human trafficking. However, it is important to remember the many girls who are still in China, waiting for our help.

Lubna Safdar is a young Catholic widow in Sarghoda, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. She is the mother of a two-year-old son, Sharon. She told Aid to the Church in Need about her suffering in the wake of the murder of her husband, Safdar Masih, and the failure of authorities to launch a timely investigation of the crime—evidence of the second-class status of Christians in the country. Christians in Pakistan are mostly very poor and have few opportunities to advance economically; their needs and rights are routinely ignored by authorities, while textbooks in state-run schools denigrate their faith. This is Lubna’s story:

“Safdar worked day and night, both as the driver of an auto rickshaw [a motorized development of the traditional pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw. Most have three wheels] and a janitor. During the day he cleaned offices and at night he drove the auto rickshaw. He received his wages of 400 Rupees [barely $2.50] daily. We struggled to meet household expenses.

Lubna Safdar is a young Catholic widow in Sarghoda, in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

Lubna Safdar is a young Catholic widow in Sarghoda, in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

“Still, we led a happy, joyful life, and we were thankful to God. My husband was noble: he worked hard and had no quarrels with anyone. He was usually home at 10 or 11 in the evening.

“On June 8, 2019, he went to work but did not come home. I was very worried, as he was never late. His brother helped me look for him. We went street by street but could not find him. The next morning, someone told us that he’d seen the body of Safdar Masih in the local hospital. He had been murdered.

“It was horrible to see my husband’s dead body. Before being shot, he had been badly beaten; he sustained a head injury, and blood was still pouring out of him. After seeing him in this state, I decided to take action.

“Safdar’s brother filed a report with the police, and numerous protestors demanded justice be done for my husband. I pleaded with higher authorities, explaining our financial circumstances and the impact of this loss. Weeks have passed. They have done nothing—surely because we were Christians.

In Pakistan, a Catholic widow cries out for justice in wake of husband’s murder,

In Pakistan, a Catholic widow cries out for justice in wake of husband’s murder.

“My husband was the breadwinner of the family. Since his death, I have felt alone and helpless. I myself am limited, as far as jobs go: I have asthma and no formal education and I have my son to take care of. Suddenly there is no one to help us—though our Lord Jesus Christ is always with us.

“My brother-in-law gives us some financial help, but still, we face very real hurdles. I pray that the authorities will bring us closure, and that I find employment soon.

“I pray that we survive my husband’s passing. I miss him so much, but I will always be his wife and honor him by keeping his memory alive each day. In my heart, he lives.”

In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need provided $800,000 in aid to the Church in Pakistan, which included support for seminarians and living expenses for women religious, as well as for a range of pastoral programs.

The Catholic Church in Pakistan is important for the country, says Reinhard Backes. He recently visited Pakistan for the fourth time as permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), in order to inform himself about the situation of the Christians and the projects that ACN supports. “With more than 200 million inhabitants, Pakistan is in sixth place on the list of the most populous countries,” he explained on his return. “Although the overwhelming majority of the population are Muslims and only some two per cent are Christians, they still amount to at least three million people in the country.”

According to Reinhard Backes’ account, the Church in Pakistan is a young church. “The majority of all worshippers at divine services in Pakistan are children, youths and young adults. But the Catholic Church in the country is a young church, not only in terms of its members, but also when viewed historically.” Unfortunately, due to the difficult social and economic situation, young people in the country hardly have any perspective, he says.

Reinhard Backes, permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Reinhard Backes, permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Further, not only for Christians and other religious minorities, but also for Muslims, the controversial blasphemy law represents a major problem because it is sometimes misused in order to pursue and oppress dissenters, says Backes. Although, some weeks ago, Asia Bibi – one of the best-known victims of the blasphemy law – was able to escape the death penalty and depart for Canada after nearly nine years of uncertainty, Christians are still in prison on account of this law. More than 224 Christians have suffered from the arbitrariness of this law since its introduction in 1986, he confirms. “Even though there are signs of hope, the Christians in the country are constantly living with a degree of insecurity.”

The mood in the country, where Islam is the state religion, is marked by religious intolerance. Over again, there are dead and injured in attacks and assaults, says Backes. He was particularly impressed by his meeting with young people who had experienced a serious attack on two Christian churches in Lahore four years ago. “Sakinder was at prayer in one of the churches and lost an eye in the explosions. Antashia had been singing in the choir at the service. When she went outside, body parts were scattered in the street. Qandeel told me that, despite the severe attacks, the congregation has grown closer together and that many subsequently joined the security service. They all do it on a voluntary basis and are proud to be able to serve the Church.”

During his journeys through the country, Reinhard Backes visited numerous projects that ACN has funded in recent years. These include the Joti Pastoral Centre in Mirpur Khas in Hyderabad Diocese, as well as the parish of St. Peter in Jhugian Jhuhid (Lahore Archdiocese) where Catholics live today who were violently driven out of the so-called Joseph Colony in 2013. ACN is helping them to develop the new parish there.

Christians in Pakistan living between hope and fear.

Christians in Pakistan living between hope and fear.

In the words of Reinhard Backes, an indispensable source of hope and confidence in Pakistan’s patriarchal society is the involvement of Christian women. “In many places, nuns perform enormously important pastoral and social work.” He mentions as examples the Mother Teresa Sisters in Faisalabad, or the Franciscan nuns in Dar-ul-Sukun, a social facility whose name means “House of Peace and Love”. There, with great devotion, a nun from Karachi has been caring for neglected children for the last 50 years. “They care for the weakest in society, orphans and persons with physical or mental disabilities. These initiatives, which are being driven forward by Christians in all dioceses, are mainly carried out by women,” reports Reinhard Backes, for whom Pakistan is not only a country of fear and violence, but also of hope and charity.

In the last two years alone, the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need has funded nearly 100 projects in Pakistan to the tune of more than 1.5 million euros, in particular giving aid for the construction of churches and other ecclesiastical facilities, support for priests, seminarians and nuns, as well as the acquisition of Christian literature.

 

Issanagri is one of the villages within the parish of the Assumption, 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.

The village is around 6 miles (10 km) from the centre of the parish, so it is 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.

Pakistan: Help to complete a church in Issanagri.

Pakistan: Help to complete a church in Issanagri.

So now the Catholic faithful have themselves begun to build a larger church. They have made great sacrifices to do so – collecting money, although they themselves are poor, and working hard on the building site, even though they already have to work very hard simply 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 11,000 Euros we have already promised them…

Code: 328-01-19

Though outwardly seemingly unremarkable, the village of Khushpur is sometimes jokingly described as „Pakistan‘s Vatican“. For in a certain sense, it can be seen as the heart of the Catholic Church in Pakistan. The reason: from this one Catholic parish no fewer than two bishops, over 35 priests, more than 100 religious sisters and a considerable number of religious brothers have emerged. And also in Khushpur is the National Formation Centre for Catechists, where catechists from all over the country receive their training. Another famous son of Khushpur was the late Minorities‘ Minister of Pakistan, Shabaz Bhatti, a profoundly faithful Catholic who stood up against the country‘s infamous blasphemy laws and also defended Asia Bibi. In March 2011 he was gunned down by extremists on his way to work. He knew very well that his life was in danger but was nevertheless willing to die for Christ if need be.

The village of Khushpur is sometimes jokingly described as „Pakistan‘s Vatican“.

The village of Khushpur is sometimes jokingly described as „Pakistan‘s Vatican“.

The village, or small town, of Khushpur, with its population of almost 8,000 Catholics, lies some 25 miles (40 km) south of the city of Faisalabad and is the largest almost entirely Catholic village in the entire „Islamic Republic of Pakistan“, where for the most part Christians make up only a vanishingly small minority and constantly have to contend with discrimination, obstruction and outright violence.

The parish is an exceptionally lively one, and the many vocations that emerge from this community speak for themselves. Catholic feasts and festivals are celebrated with great solemnity, especially the feast of Christ the King, which is marked with a procession lasting many hours. The people are rock-solid in their faith and live the liturgical year of the Church with great intensity. The importance of prayer and the Sacraments is a daily reality for them.

The village, or small town, of Khushpur, with its population of almost 8,000 Catholics, lies some 25 miles (40 km) south of the city of Faisalabad.

The village, or small town, of Khushpur, with its population of almost 8,000 Catholics, lies some 25 miles (40 km) south of the city of Faisalabad.

Needless to say, a vehicle is an absolute necessity for the pastoral care of the parish. For it covers a large area, and the priests and catechists have to minister to all the scattered faithful. There are sick people to visit and Mass to be celebrated in the remotest corners of the parish, and there are also many ongoing pastoral activities for which some means of transport is an urgent necessity. We are therefore proposing to give them 9,000 Euros so that they can purchase a vehicle for the pastoral work of the parish.

Code: 328-01-29

 

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:

“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.

Noman, young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan.

Noman, young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan.

“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.”

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT Aid to the Church in Need, VISIT http://www.churchinneed.org
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ABOUT US

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.