02/28/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN

A new wave of extremism falling on Christians, says Mgr Saldanha

The archbishop of Lahore, who chairs the Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, speaks out on new forms of violence against the country’s minorities: forced conversions, abductions and discrimination. He appeals to the government to protect Christians and treat them like other ordinary citizens.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, has called on the government to protect Christians from a new wave of violence that is falling on them. He stressed that the constitution protects freedom of religion and that the authorities are duty-bound to do something to stop threats and attempts by Muslim extremists to force the nation’s minorities to convert.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need he lamented the growing “hatred and intolerance” of militant groups. Their repeated attempts to force Christians to convert to Islam are not only violent in nature but also contravene the principles guaranteed in Pakistan's constitution.

For the archbishop of Lahore, the story of a young Catholic man is a case in point. The father of four was abducted last month by militants from Jamaat-ul-Dawah, an extremist group deemed terrorist. He was tortured in order to force him to become Muslim.

His case “underlines the difficulties and pressures of living in a land where extremism is growing,” where “there is little tolerance for people who are non-Muslims,” in particular for “Christians who live in remote and isolated towns [. . .]. Here the level of hatred and intolerance is even more intense.”

What is more distressing is the plight of Christian girls who are abducted and forced to marry their captors and change their religion.

This is something that has never happened before. We Christians are citizens, just like everyone else, and wish to have the same rights,” he said.  But sadly these events show what can happen when intolerance takes hold of an entire country.

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