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PAKISTAN: Anglican Bishop Decries Attacks on Churches

PAKISTAN: Anglican Bishop Decries Attacks on Churches

By David W. Virtue, DD
August 17, 2023

Some 21 churches across all denominational lines were burnt to the ground along with many houses and Bibles in an unprecedented attack by Muslim extremists, forcing thousands of Christians to flee for the lives from mob violence.

Anglican Bishop Azad Marshall who serves as the Moderator Bishop of the Church of Pakistan said in a statement, "we, Bishops, Priests, and lay people are deeply pained and distressed at the Jaranwala incident in the Faisalabad District in Pakistan. A church building is being burnt as I type this message. Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been tortured and harassed having been falsely accused of violating the Holy Quran. We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland that has just celebrated independence and freedom."

"The Christian families of Jaranwala spent the night in the fields and threshing floors in the shadow of fear to save their lives in their own country," the Rev. Saleem Khokhar told VOL.

VOL was told that Azad met with the Chief minister "concerning this terrible incident."

Videos and messages sent to VOL suggested that the mobs were stirred up by reports, broadcast over local mosque loudspeakers, of the alleged desecration of religious scriptures by two local Christian residents. It might also have something to do with the political agenda of the nation and a young Christian boy falling in love with a Muslim girl resulting in personal conflict between families, a local Anglican priest told VOL.

In other news reports, the two accused Christian brothers, Raja Amir Saleem and Rocky Saleem, hailing from the Cinema Basti area have been charged under sections 295 B and C for purportedly desecrating the holy Quran and penning derogatory remarks about the revered Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have been charged with insulting Islam and defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed.

While a heavy contingent of police reached the area and assured the growing mob that the suspects would be apprehended and would face action under the law, videos showed the crowds proceeding to attack the colony, demanding to execute the two men themselves.

Speaking on Wednesday to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Abid Tanveer, vicar general of Faisalabad Catholic diocese, reported back from a visit to Jaranwala where he said it was still unsafe:

"This situation has been very terrifying. The Christians are very scared. Please pray for our people, pray that their lives may be protected.

"So many people have lost their belongings, everything. They don't know what to do or where to go."

One Christian cleric said up to 2000 people had so far fled their homes.

Father Tanveer reported that 13 churches belonging to different Christian denominations had been attacked, a number of them torched, as well as a catechist's house and a parish house.

He said that Father Khalid, parish priest of St Paul's, Jaranwala, had to lock himself inside the parish house as extremists surrounded it, shouting and demanding he come out.

Eventually they left, enabling the priest to leave and shortly after the attackers returned and torched baptismal, marriage and death certificates held in the parish office.

According to local witnesses contacted by ACN, the attackers began throwing furniture out into the streets while calling for the murder of the alleged blasphemer.

A Christian in Faisalabad told ACN: "It is absolutely terrifying. We do not know what is going to happen next."

Another leading clergy from Faisalabad said: "We totally condemn this act of brutal terrorism.

"The people who attack innocent Christians and burned their homes have a mindset of terrorism."

A senior priest told ACN that the threat had not passed and people remained "very frightened.

"We are so grateful for your concern and your prayers. Please keep praying for us."

The charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says Christian residents of the colony and adjoining Christian villages are continuing to flee for fear of further attacks. A local Christian resident said families from at least over 500 homes have fled three Christian settlements.

A mob also ransacked the Salvation Army Church in the colony, one of the oldest churches in the area, and reportedly set it on fire.

Local residents told CSW that if police had acted in time, the situation would not have escalated. The government has since called for additional police contingents from other cities and exit and entry points to the city have been sealed. Christian institutions and churches in adjoining cities have been closed in an attempt to avoid further attacks.

In the wake of the violent attacks on churches and Christians in Pakistan, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Bishop Anthony Poggo, has called for justice to be served. He said; "I am deeply saddened and shocked to hear the news of attacks on Christians and churches in the Faisalabad district in Pakistan. I have been in contact with Bishop Azad and join him in calling for justice and action from law enforcement. Christians and other religious communities are being unjustly persecuted as a result of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Pray with me for the safety of all of Pakistan's citizens."


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