There were tears of sadness and fear in Pakistan on Sunday (20th August) as a crowd of 700 attended Mass outside their burnt-out church following one of the country’s worst outbreaks of persecution in a generation.
Amid tight security, Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad presided at the Mass held in the streets of Jaranwala where last Wednesday (16th August) thousands of people narrowly fled a mob of thousands who went on the rampage.
Up to 24 churches, hundreds of Christian homes and a Chrisitan cemetery were targeted in the attack which was sparked by reports of a blasphemy allegation against two Christians accused of desecrating the Qur’an.
After the service outside St Paul’s Catholic Church, a Christian community leader, who is not being named for security reasons, told ACN: “Most of the people were crying in the Mass.
“It was a very painful time but a chance to share with one another their sense of loss and sadness.”
Although more than 30 police – including elite forces – were present, there was fear among those attending the service.
The ACN contact said: “When we went in, some local Muslims stared wide-eyed. They had angry faces and began cursing us and using abusive language.”
But other Christian leaders reported widespread concern among many Muslims who they said were “ashamed” about what had happened and were wanting to help in any way they could.
They said that Muslim leaders were insisting that those responsible for the violence be brought to justice.
The ACN contact added that many of the Christians returning to Jaranwala were horrified by the extent of the damage done to their homes and were sleeping on the floor without electric light and unable to cook food.
The friend of ACN said: “People returning to their homes found nothing but they have nowhere else to go – they cannot go on sleeping outside in streets or out in the fields.”
Bishops call for justice
The Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC) reacted to the most recent bout of persecution with a statement calling for justice to be served.
“The PCBC denounces this shameful act, and urges the federal and provincial interim governments to take stern action against the culprits to bring them to justice”, the bishops wrote.
“The Christian community has been terrorized and frightened by a small group of miscreants to make them believe that Christians are in fact second-class citizens of Pakistan and will remain so. We ask the Government to take strong measures to protect the minorities and to bring into force such policies that can help us as a nation to become peaceful human beings and a better society so that such incidents may not take place in the future.”
In the same statement, the bishops thank many public, religious, legal and political figures for having displayed their solidarity with the Christian community in this time of strife, yet they also ask: “will justice be realized? It is very sad to say that past experiences show us that nothing happened and all was forgotten”.
The Church meanwhile provided food packages, soap and other health care items, cups, plates and other basic household essentials.
The ACN contact said: “Many families are missing meals, they don’t have stoves so they can’t even make tea. They are feeling very emotional and afraid.”