Christians are unquestionably treated as second-class citizens in Pakistan. Abused, discriminated against, oppressed, they are rarely given the opportunity to advance socially. Most Christians have to eke out a living in the most poorly paid jobs, often working as day labourers, in the brickworks, as road sweepers, road workers, rickshaw drivers or domestic staff and generally living from hand to mouth.
The coronavirus pandemic has only made their situation worse. For many have simply lost their jobs as a result of the lockdown and have no savings to tide them over. It is true, of course that many Muslims also find themselves in a similar situation; however they are able to count on the support of local NGOs. By contrast, non-Muslims are often refused help of any kind.
The coronavirus is spreading rapidly in Pakistan. In the second half of June there were still over 1000 new infections daily, and with a high mortality rate. By 27 July, according to official figures, there had been almost 274,300 recorded cases and over 5840 deaths.
As a result, for the three dioceses of Faisalabad, Islamabad Rawalpindi and Lahore, ACN has launched an emergency aid programme during the course of the lockdown, to a total value of 150,000 Euros. Already, essential food supplies have been provided to 5000 needy families, most of them Christians. In addition, the priests and catechists of these three dioceses have been provided with protective equipment such as masks and sanitising fluid, so that they can continue to minister to the Catholic faithful in all their physical and spiritual needs. Since many of these people have no access to the Internet, an information programme about COVID-19 has also been launched via local radio and a local leafleting campaign, informing people how to protect themselves against infection. In addition schoolchildren from some of the most needy families have also been helped with a special school subsidy so that they can continue their schooling after the lockdown, even though their parents have lost their means of support.
Aneel Mushtaq, the executive secretary of Caritas Pakistan, ACN’s partner in this project, has told us, “The aid you have provided us from ACN has helped save many people from starvation. Many people had absolutely nothing to put on the table or feed their families with, and were in a state of extreme anguish.” Now we in turn want to offer a heartfelt thank you to all our benefactors who have helped!