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.”

‘Today is a day of rejoicing’ – Neville Kyrke-Smith

By John Pontifex

ASIA Bibi’s flight to Canada has been hailed as “the news we had all been hoping and praying for” – according to the head of a Catholic organisation committed to helping victims of injustice in Pakistan.

Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf, National Director of Pakistan’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “For almost 10 years now, this is the day all of us have been waiting for when the family can at last be reunited.” And Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “Thank you to so many people who have prayed and campaigned for Asia Bibi’s release. “Today is a day of rejoicing.”

United Kingdom, 09.10.2018 - Eisham Ashiq, 19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi, & Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi.

United Kingdom, 09.10.2018 – Eisham Ashiq, 19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi, & Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi.

Paying tribute to Aid to the Church in Need and all those who have appealed for justice for Asia Bibi, Father Yousaf said: “There are so many who deserve our congratulations for all that they have done for Asia in her struggle to regain her freedom.” The comments come amid breaking news that the Christian woman, formerly on death row for blasphemy, has finally left her native Pakistan and travelled to Canada, where her two daughters, Eisham and Esha, are now living. Father Yousaf said: “We thank God that the family is now being reunited at long last.

“We pray to God that they will have a better future and can put behind them nearly 10 years of suffering. “We thank God that justice has prevailed.”

Asia Bibi was charged with blasphemy in 2009, a crime punishable by death. Last October the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her, confirming its decision in an appeal hearing in January, but she was not allowed to follow her wish and leave the country – until today. Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “At Aid to the Church in Need, we were privileged to welcome some of Asia Bibi’s family to the UK last year. “We are sure that the presentations they made gave added impetus to finding a solution for Asia who had suffered unjust imprisonment for nearly 10 years.”

He added: However, today is also a day tinged with great sadness – as we remember those others who are still incarcerated or unjustly accused under the Blasphemy Laws today as well as those who sacrificed so much for Asia Bibi, particularly the politicians Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, who gave up their lives in the pursuit of freedom for Asia. “Our prayers and our work will continue to help all those who are unjustly accused by radical fundamentalists and who cannot practise their Christian faith freely.”

The life of a priest in Pakistan is by no means an easy mission. Most of the Catholic priests in the country have to minister to vast areas, and the threat of Islamic extremism is a growing and ever present danger. Again and again Christians are victims of violence and false accusations of blasphemy, and even in their ordinary everyday lives they face constant hostility and discrimination. Socially speaking, most Christians are on the bottom rung of society. They look to their priests not only for pastoral and spiritual help but also turn to them in every kind of need. Often, if a rural worker employed as an indentured labourer by a wealthy local landowner should die, his wife and children will find themselves suddenly thrown out onto the streets because their landlord has evicted them. Such people will naturally turn to their priest, as will the parents of sick children, the victims of violent attacks and all who are in need and despair.

Meanwhile, the priests themselves are often living in a state of constant tension. Most of them have already been the targets of threatening phone calls and letters, and even the bishops have received letters demanding that they convert to Islam. Almost all of them can also confirm that their telephones have been tapped and that they have received strange phone calls, for example by someone claiming to be a Muslim who wishes to convert to Christianity. If a priest should say the wrong thing at such a moment, he can find himself in all sorts of trouble.

935 Missae Ordinariae for 17 diocesan priests working in Multan Diocese - 2017: Prayer during celebration of the Eucharist.

935 Missae Ordinariae for 17 diocesan priests working in Multan Diocese – 2017: Prayer during celebration of the Eucharist.

Given this difficult situation, it is vitally important for the priests to be able to meet together regularly in order to encourage and strengthen one another and foster the fraternal spirit between them, while at the same time deepening their spiritual and theological knowledge.

In the diocese of Multan there are 18 diocesan priests and 19 priests belonging to different religious orders. Large parts of the diocese are in desert regions and there are numerous terrorist camps in these areas. The now deceased predecessor of the present Bishop actually himself survived a murder attempt in 1996, while in one of the churches in his diocese.

The Catholic Church in this region not only provides pastoral support for its own faithful but also supplies humanitarian aid in some of the areas where the government itself does not dare to venture, on account of the dangers. Many Muslims are also very grateful for this help and frequently ask the priests for their prayers.

The priests of the diocese meet together once a year for a joint retreat. There are also monthly meetings in various places. The fraternal spirit of communion between them helps to strengthen them and give new energy and impetus to their spiritual lives, so that they can return to their communities, refreshed and reinvigorated.

We have helped before, and this year we are helping once again, with 8,000 Euros so that the 37 priests of the diocese can continue to meet together. That represents a total of just 216 Euros per priest per year, to cover everything from travel costs to board and lodging.

In Pakistan, 224 Christians have been victims of the blasphemy law since the law’s passage in 1986, Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan, told a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit to the Asian country.

Although the legal case against Asia Bibi finally came to a positive resolution on January 29th, 23 Christians were killed for blasphemy accusations between 1990 and 2017 and the Commission has documented a further 25 cases of Christians under trial, according to a study presented to ACN.

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.

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.

Specifically, there are two paragraphs of Section 295 of the Pakistani Penal Code (paragraphs B and C) that can be understood as the “anti-blasphemy law”. Section 295B stipulates a life sentence for anyone who desecrates the Quran, while insulting the Prophet Muhammed carries the death sentence under Section 295C.

“The anti-blasphemy law is a powerful tool that fundamentalists can wield to the detriment of minorities and is often misused as a means for personal revenge,” Chaudhry said. “And when charges are brought against Christians, the entire community suffers the consequences.”

This is exactly what happened in March of 2013 in Joseph Colony, a Christian district in Lahore, after the young Christian Sawan Masih was accused of having insulted Muhammad. “On 9 March, after Friday prayers, a mob of 3000 Muslims burnt down the entire district, destroying almost 300 houses and two churches,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf, NCJP President, explained to the delegation from ACN during a visit to the residential area. The district has in the meantime been rebuilt thanks to funding from the government and returned to the Christians.

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan.

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan.

While the 83 instigators of the arson attack have all been released, Sawan Masih was sentenced to death in 2014 and is still waiting for the appeal proceedings to be held. “The hearings are constantly being postponed,” attorney Tahir Bashir explained. “The last hearing was scheduled for 28 January, but the judge did not appear. A new court date has now been set for 27 February.”

Just as in the case of Asia Bibi, there are a lot of irregularities in Sawan’s case. The charges against him were brought by one of his Muslim friends, Shahid Imran, following an argument between the two men. Only two days later, two witnesses appeared who in reality had not even been present at the time Muhammed was allegedly insulted. “The charges against Sawan are being exploited,” Father Yousaf told ACN. “The true motivation behind this is an attempt to drive Christians out of this city district. It has become very popular because it lies very close to the steel factories.”

In the meantime, Sawan’s wife Sobia is raising their three children all by herself. “I don’t know why they have accused my husband,” she said to ACN. “I just know that the man who brought charges against him was a friend of his with whom he had quarrelled. Sawan is innocent!”

Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saif Ul-Malook spoke to a delegation of ACN in Lahore, Pakistan. “Even though my life might have been destroyed due to Asia Bibi’s case, I do not regret having defended her. I never regretted. I would do it again. I am open for new cases such as this one in the future. If any Christian accused of blasphemy asked me to be his or her lawyer, I would do it without any hesitation”.

Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saif Ul-Malook.

Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saif Ul-Malook.

After Asia Bibi’s acquittal on 31st October, Saif Ul-Malook had to flee the country. He came back to Pakistan a few weeks ago for the final hearing on her case. A Muslim prayer leader had filed a petition to seek review of the verdict. The judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld her acquittal. When the lawyer came back to Pakistan, he was once more insulted and threatened. “My peers accuse me of being a bad Muslim. They are convinced I should not have defended a Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy. Besides, I received death threats. Because of that some of my colleagues and friends do not ride on the same car as me. They fear I will end up being killed and they want to avoid the same fate.”

The lawyer recalled how much his client has suffered. After being imprisoned for eight years wrongfully accused on death row in a blasphemy case, she is still waiting to live freely with her family. “Asia Bibi has remarkable endurance. I do not know how she managed. She lived for eight years in an eight square meters room. She was only allowed to get out twice a day for half an hour. She had limited time for visitors once a month. Whenever I met her, I tried my best to comfort her and to motivate her. For me, it would be impossible to live in those conditions.”

Now that Asia Bibi’s case is over and she is free, Saif Ul-Malook said he is ready to help others in need of legal assistance. “I am willing to give my legal advice and to be at service of anyone who needs me regardless of their belief. If another Christian needs my help, I will be at her or his disposal”. At the end of the conversation with ACN delegation, the lawyer shares one of his wishes. “I would love to meet Pope Francis. Even though I am a Muslim, I admire him as the Spiritual leader of three-quarters of humankind, and I wish to pay my respect to him.”

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