Pakistan: religious leaders visit Christian families affected by violence
By Edoardo Giribaldi
Sebastian Shaw, Archbishop of Lahore, together with Muslim leaders and Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, Caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan, visited the Christian families of Jaranwala, in the industrial district of Faisalabad, to bring solidarity and consolation after the attacks that took place on August 16 initiated by an alleged blasphemy accusation.
The violence against Christian buildings began after some people reported finding some pages of the Koran with allegedly blasphemous writings in the Christian community area.
The number of worship buildings attacked is 21, as the United Council of Churches executive director Samson Suhail reported. More than 80 houses were also said to be targeted, but no major injuries were reported.
Consolation and solidarity
During his visit, Archbishop Shaw listened and prayed with the displaced families. The encounter acquired an even more important symbolic meaning, as it featured the presence of Muslim leaders who, from the beginning, firmly condemned the acts of violence and expressed their solidarity and common prayer.
"What we have seen is terrible devastation. People are shocked and desperate, with nothing left. It is up to us to bring a modicum of consolation by being witnesses of Jesus' love," Archbishop Shaw affirmed.
He also highlighted the need for both psychological and material assistance. This latter will be arranged with Caritas and volunteers from different religious congregations.
"We are with you"
The Jaranwala community, including worshippers of different faiths and Muslim citizens, was also visited by Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, Caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan.
"The Christian community has played an important role in the creation of Pakistan," the Prime Minister declared, identifying it as an essential part of the nation and underlining how it is the "responsibility of every Muslim to protect minority communities."
"We are with you," he added. "We will be the voice of the voiceless. We will enforce the law, and you will find the state and society standing beside you not only verbally but with tangible and meaningful gestures."
The Prime Minister also distributed checks for 2 million rupees each to Christians whose homes were destroyed during the violence.
The role of interfaith dialogue, emphasized by the Muslim leaders' visit, was reinforced by the international association "Religions for Peace" appeal to "ecumenical and interfaith partners around the world to say 'no' to all forms of violence and oppression, and to continue praying and building justice and peace in Pakistan."
The violence effects
Speaking with Vatican News the day after the attack, Paul Bhatti, the brother of murdered Christian politician Shahbaz Bhatti, commented on the devastating effects of the wave of violence.
Mr. Bhatti had also called for a re-examination of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. "It is unacceptable," he noted, "that the people take the law in their hands and try to attack Christian people."
Prevent future incidents
In an interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Joseph Arshad, the President of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, had appealed for an honest exercise of justice "in order to stop these kinds of incidents in the future."
Archbishop Arshad also noted the acts of solidarity from the Muslim community and how everybody intended to keep the situation under control "and help these people."