Faisalabad (Agenzia Fides) - Prayer, solidarity with the displaced, demand for justice: this is how the Christian community in Pakistan lives in the days following the events of August 16 in the town of Jaranwala, where a wave of violence - caused by charges of blasphemy against two Christians - destroyed 26 churches, chapels and halls of worship (including three Catholic ones), 800 houses and left more than three thousand Pakistani citizens of Christian faith homeless. In the diocese of Faisalabad, which encompasses Jaranwala, Catholic communities have come together to pray in all churches. Yesterday, Sunday August 20, on the occasion of the special Day of Prayer announced by the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan throughout the nation (see Fides, 18/8/2023), Msgr. Indrias Rehmat, Bishop of Faisalabad, celebrated Mass in the streets of the devastated neighborhood, near the rubble of St Paul's Catholic Church, alongside Fr. Khalid Mukhtar, the neighborhood's Catholic priest. All the Christian families participated with devotion and emotion, finding consolation in the closeness expressed by all the other faithful and in the approach to the Eucharist. "The Lord is always by our side. He is with us in suffering. His Body and His Blood are a source of strength, patience, hope and bear witness to God's eternal love for his people. He is in the midst of us today and let us not despair", the Bishop told the faithful, who were tried by the loss of their homes and all their personal belongings, finding themselves in misery overnight.
In the Diocese of Faisalabad, Father Emmanuel Parvez focused his homily on the Gospel passage in which the crucified Jesus says: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing". "Our response is forgiveness. We invoke God's mercy for those who have been guilty of crimes and brutalities, desecrating churches and destroying homes. We also ask for justice, so that, at the civil level, the responsibilities are ascertained and that the perpetrators of such acts are prosecuted", he adds. Prayer vigils were also organized in other dioceses: in Karachi, in the province of Sindh, hundreds of faithful gathered in front of St Patrick's Cathedral with lighted candles, to ask God for comfort, justice and the peace. Along with prayer, a joint solidarity effort is underway for displaced families in Jaranwala. Caritas Faisalabad, with a team of volunteers, is distributing food parcels, hygiene kits and cooking utensils to affected families. Religious communities such as the Dominican Sisters of Faisalabad, go and are active in the Christian quarter, preparing and bringing cooked food to the displaced. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) have also started working in the area to support the needy, providing basic necessities such as tents and blankets, while cleaning up places and homes and starting to think about rebuilding. An action has also been launched by the "Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation", led by Catholic Michelle Chaudhry, who says: "While visiting the site, we realized that the extent of the destruction was beyond comprehension. We have launched the 'Jaranwala Relief Program' to assist the victims. Several families have taken refuge in the homes of their relatives or friends, while others are staying in nearby makeshift shelters or even with Muslim families who are showing solidarity.
There are around 3,000 displaced people, including 200 children. We need to think about daily sustainability: we need ready-cooked food, clean water, baby food, dry food, hygiene, medicines. We have set up a collection center at our headquarters in Lahore and we also accept cash donations. From a legal point of view, lawyers, scholars and politicians who condemn the violence call on the judiciary to act quickly and send a clear signal to public opinion: not to leave the perpetrated violence unpunished, so that such tragedies do not happen again in the future. Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, spokesperson for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, assured that "justice has set in motion: the Pakistani government will not stop until those responsible for these cowardly acts are brought to justice". The police have already arrested more than a hundred suspects who are believed to be frontline looters. Meanwhile, to meet the needs of displaced families, the Punjab provincial government said it had approved compensation of 2 millions of rupees (6,700 USD) for each of the affected families. At the interreligious level, the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) and the Anglican Church of Pakistan have set up a special committee of 24 members to "jointly address the Jaranwala incident, promote interfaith harmony and counter extremist narratives". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 21/8/2023)