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    » 08/03/2009, 00.00

    PAKISTAN

    Anti-Christian attacks “premeditated”, says archbishop of Lahore

    Fareed Khan

    Mgr Saldanha calls for more decisive government action to protect the Christian minority, forced to “defend itself alone”. He launches an appeal “to protect the Christians of Pakistan.” Christian leaders shut down all Christian schools and institutions to protest the violence. The Pope sends a telegram for the victims.
    Lahore (AsiaNews) – “We must defend ourselves” from “premeditated” attacks against Pakistan’s Christian minority. For this reason it is necessary “to keep a low profile” and avoid giving fundamentalists “any more pretexts” to carry out violence on confessional grounds, said Mgr John Lawrence Saldanha, the archbishop of Lahore, as he spoke to AsiaNews about anti-Christian attacks in Gojra and the village of Korian, in Punjab.

    “The Christian community suffered two premeditated attacks,” Archbishop Saldanha. “The first one, on 30 July, fortunately produced no victims. But on 1 August, people were not prepared to confront the onslaught and some died.”

    About “seven people died, six from the same family,” the prelate added. But the number of casualties could rise.

    Following the intervention of the Pakistani army, calm returned to the area.

    The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), which is chaired by Archbishop Saldanha, has decided to shut down all Catholic schools and institutions in Punjab for three days of mourning.

    In a joint statement signed by the archbishop and Peter Jacob, the NCJP executive secretary, the NCJP called on the government to address the root causes of religious intolerance in Pakistan.

    More specifically, the archbishop denounced the use of a “special fuel” to make it more difficult to put out the flames, a fuel also used in Shanti Nagar, a village that was torched in February 1997 and in Sangla Hill in 2005.

    The prelate went on to call for “more decisive government action” to protect the country’s minorities as well as a “special meeting with the authorities in Islamabad,” guilty of not taking “all the necessary steps to defend the population.”

    For Mgr Saldanha the Sunni extremist group Sipah-e-Sahabaha could be behind the attack. He said he hoped that “concrete steps” will be taken to stop the violence.

    “We must defend ourselves” and “keep a low profile”, he said. “Christians must avoid giving the terrorists more scope to carry out more attacks.”

    In an atmosphere of “profound sadness,” he made a plea through AsiaNews: “[We Catholics of Pakistan] call upon the Christians of the entire world for their solidarity and prayers. Do not leave us alone; remain close to us in your hearts and minds. Now all we can do is stay united and hope the situation will improve.”

    For NCJP leaders the government must find a solution to the problems caused by the blasphemy laws, which have been used to sow “hatred and divisions” in the country.

    They denounce the existence of extremist cells in Punjab, involved in attacks across Pakistan.

    Punjab’s provincial government must adopt a strategy to “eliminate hate speech” and violence in all their forms.

    In a telegram sent by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, to the Bishop of Faisalabad, the Most Reverend Joseph Coutts, the Holy Father said he “was deeply grieved to learn of the senseless attack on the Christian community of Gojra City which resulted in the tragic killing of innocent men, women and children”.

    “In the name of God,” he said “everyone” should “renounce the way of violence which causes so much suffering and” instead “embrace the way of peace.”

    His Holiness also charge bishop Coutts to strongly encourage the whole diocesan community, and all Christians in Pakistan, to continue their efforts at building “a society which, with a profound sense of trust in religious and human values, is marked by mutual respect among all its members.”

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    See also

    04/08/2009 PAKISTAN
    Blasphemy laws, a pretext to attack Pakistan’s religious minorities
    The official death toll in the Gojra massacre now stands at eight. A 35-year-old man succumbs last night to injuries he sustained during the attack by Muslim fundamentalists. Rights activists and minority leaders believe the government condones such attacks by tolerating laws that punish offences against Islam. The Catholic Church of India and Geneva-based World Council of Churches express their solidarity with fellow Christians in Pakistan.

    15/11/2005 PAKISTAN
    Christian leaders urge Pakistan president to repeal blasphemy law

    The Christian community has called a protest strike on 17 November in the wake of violence and destruction of churches and Christian places in Sangla Hill. The public security forces are under fire for their alleged inefficiency.



    24/11/2005 PAKISTAN
    Archbishop of Canterbury: "Musharraf should review blasphemy law"

    During his Pakistan visit, the Anglican leader has called on the government to rethink the blasphemy law after the attacks on the Christian community at Sangla Hill.



    22/12/2005 PAKISTAN
    Fanaticism will destroy country, Christian leaders warn Musharraf

    This is the second time since the Sangla Hill attack that Christian leaders have called for the abrogation of the blasphemy law and for an end to religious fundamentalism.



    16/11/2005 PAKISTAN
    Punjab Christians urge government to visit their destroyed churches

    The AsiaNews correspondent in Sangla Hill has gathered witness accounts and precise accusations from the Christian community there, which saw churches, convents and schools burned down and looted. "Blasphemy has nothing to do with it," they say. "It's all about persecution." Torture at the police headquarters was reported. (Photos were taken by our correspondent: the Christian community of Sangla Hill and their destroyed property).





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