The international Catholic pastoral charity „Aid to the Church in Need“ (ACN International) is providing emergency aid for struggling Christian families in Pakistan, facing hardship and hunger as a consequence of the COVID-19 lockdown in the country
The measures taken by Pakistan to contain the coronavirus pandemic have further exacerbated the social hardship facing the Christian minority in the country. The bishops of the catholic dioceses of Faisalabad, Islamabad Rawalpindi and Lahore have appealed to the international Catholic pastoral charity ACN for aid. There are proposing a broad emergency programme to provide food parcels for over 5000 of the poorest families, who were already living below the poverty threshold before the crisis, and who are now facing a desperate situation. ACN International will support this programme with an initial aid package totalling 150,000 Euros.
According to official figures, as of 27 May, 59,151 people have been infected by the virus and 1225 have died. The two hardest-hit regions are the provinces of Sindh and Punjab.
„Christians, who make up around 2% of the population of the country, are among the poorest members of society in Pakistan. They have been particularly hard hit by the economic consequences of the coronavirus lockdown and the other restrictions imposed since the end of March this year. The coronavirus and the lockdown have deprived them of their already meagre livelihoods, and forced them to live through the crisis in extremely cramped and overcrowded conditions with a minimum of resources. We simply cannot leave them to face a cruel choice between hunger and infection“, insisted the executive president of ACN International, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern.
According to local reports and as ACN International recently reported, certain NGOs in Pakistan and certain Muslim leaders have refused to help Christians and other religious minorities under existing COVID-19 emergency aid programmes – even though these minorities are among those hardest hit by the consequences of the pandemic.
„The state-sponsored aid programmes for the most part exclude the religious minorities, who are de facto second-class citizens and only rarely able to access state aid. Religious discrimination is sadly nothing new in Pakistan. What is deeply concerning, however, is that even during this global crisis such minorities are being clearly disadvantaged“, Dr Heine-Geldern observed sadly.
A great many Christians work as day labourers, domestic servants, cleaners or kitchen staff, or sometimes as street traders or labourers in the brickworks. They earn the lowest wages and are dependent on their daily wage to feed their families. „All these areas of employment are precisely the ones that have been most impacted by the economic shutdown, and many Christian employees have been simply dismissed without notice by families for whom they have worked for years, since these families are afraid that the poor may bring infection into their homes“, ACN‘s executive president added.
In Faisalabad the emergency aid programme supported by ACN not only involves the distribution of food parcels but also includes an awareness raising campaign, aimed at informing families via radio and the digital media as to how to protect themselves against the virus. According to Dr Heine-Geldern, there is also a plan to distribute face masks to the faithful in the churches and equip priests, catechists, diocesan staff and other volunteers with personal protection equipment as they carry out their pastoral and social aid work.
“A major priority of our charity involves helping Christians who are suffering discrimination and persecution, and this is clearly the case in Pakistan. We have already provided emergency aid in the form of Mass stipends for the support of priests and their pastoral mission, but this is clearly not enough. Of course we simply do not have the resources to supply all the needs, but we think it is important to make this gesture of solidarity, and we are hoping that other organisations and many people of goodwill will join together with us in our efforts. Otherwise, Christians in Pakistan will be facing the threat of extinction“, Dr Heine-Geldern warned.