ASIA/PAKISTAN - Anti-Christian violence in Jaranwala: Archbishop of Lahore, Muslim religious leaders and Prime Minister visit affected families

Tuesday, 22 August 2023 blasphemy   violence   religious minorities  

Faisalabad (Agenzia Fides) - In times of suffering human contact, a hug, a smile and words of comfort are of great value. With this conviction, the Archbishop of Lahore, Sebastian Shaw visited the city of Jaranwala in the Pakistani province of Punjab, where on August 16 there had been a wave of violence against Christians over alleged blasphemy allegations. In particular, the Archbishop visited the affected families there, prayed with them, listened to them and comforted them. Days before the Bishop of Faisalabad, Msgr. Indrias Rehmat – visited andcelebrated Mass in the devastated neighborhood (see Fides, 21/8/2023) – as well as the delegation of the Episcopal Commission "Justice and Peace", led by Msgr. Joseph Arshad, Archbishop Shaw also wanted to be present, expressing his solidarity, meeting displaced families and listening to their needs, reading the Gospel with them and drawing comfort and hope from the Word of God. The peculiarity of the visit was that the Archbishop came with some Muslim leaders who had condemned the violence from the beginning and wanted to be there to express their solidarity and to offer a common prayer. "What we saw is a terrible devastation that moved us very much. People are shocked and desperate, they have nothing left. It is up to us to offer a touch of consolation by being witnesses of Jesus' love. We need human closeness, psychological and material help, and we are organizing all possible help through Caritas, but also through volunteers and various religious communities. I have told the Christians that they are not alone in this suffering, Jesus is with them and we are with them, we are interested and we will take care of them", said the Archbishop. The Jaranwala community also welcomed Anwar ul Haq, interim Prime Minister of Pakistan, at a gathering of believers from various denominations and Muslim citizens. As a sign of the attention of the institutions, the Prime Minister wanted to express his solidarity with the victims personally and on behalf of the Pakistani government. In a speech widely reported in Pakistani media, Anwar ul Haq recalled that "the Christian community played an important role in the founding of Pakistan" and is an integral part of the nation, adding that "it the responsibility of every Muslim to protect minority communities". "We act against enemies of minorities not only out of duty, but out of conviction", added the Prime Minister, "As followers of the founder of the homeland, Ali Jinnah, and as followers of the Prophet Muhammad, we act in accordance with the law and the Constitution of Pakistan, which encourages and obliges us to respond to these atrocities. We will not give an easy amnesty to the persecutors. If anyone persecutes a community, justice will reach them". "Brothers and sisters," the Prime Minister said to the Christians, "we are with you, we will be the voice of the voiceless. We will enforce the law and you will find that the state and society do not only offer you verbally, but also to stand by with concrete and meaningful gestures". Anwar ul Haq then distributed financial aid of 2 million rupees each to Christians whose homes were destroyed as a result of the violence. On the level of interreligious dialogue as a way to strengthen relationships and build a culture of peace and coexistence, the international association "Religions for Peace" called on "ecumenical and interreligious partners around the world to say 'No' to all forms of violence and oppression and continue to pray for justice and peace in Pakistan". Solidarity with the affected Christian communities is also strong among Pakistanis living in diaspora: "This shocking incident has shaken the hearts of people around the world and highlighted the urgent need for unity, understanding and religious tolerance," notes the Pakistanis association "Voice of The Voiceless international" (VOV) founded abroad. "At this time of sorrow and pain, we extend our deepest sympathy to the Pakistani Christian community. We call on all individuals, international communities and leaders to stand together against hatred, violence and intolerance and to promote and foster an environment where all faiths are respected and valued in Pakistan" (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 22/8/2023)