01/11/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Lahore: Government bulldozes a Catholic institution and expropriates the land

The local community in shock over the decision to seize the entire provincial executive properties, which provided shelter and education to women. During the demolition copies of the Bible and sacred images destroyed. Police patrolling the area, while the faithful have organized a protest rally.
Lahore (AsiaNews) - Anger and confusion reign among Catholics in Punjab, for the decision taken yesterday by the local government to demolish a building owned by the Church – with the documents to confirm it - and seize the surrounding land. During the demolition of the structure several copies of the Bible and some objects and sacred images were destroyed. This morning, the congregation has organized a protest rally to be held close to seized area, while government officials have deployed police, to block any action by Christians.

The reception center "Gosha-e-Aman", located in Allama Iqbal Road, Garhi Shahu in the neighborhood, run by Caritas Pakistan and Lahore Charitable Association, was demolished in the early morning yesterday by order of the provincial government. The institute was founded in 1887 and is surrounded by two acres of land, worth a billions of rupees. Inside there was a home for the elderly, a girls' school, a convent and a chapel for prayer. The dispute relating to the possession of the building and surrounding area had long been the center of a lawsuit, still pending in the High Court of Lahore. What seems to have triggered the episode, although the Church is in possession of all documentation, a woman who has in the past sought shelter in the center. After some time, she converted to Islam and claimed the right of ownership of the two rooms she occupies.

The case it appears was enough to motivate the government to seize the whole area and bring down the Catholic institution. Under the supervision of the chief executive of the district and with the police protection, bulldozers proceeded to demolish the property of Catholics, the operation was preceded by the forced eviction of a few families, who had been resident for some time in the now destroyed structure. For police chiefs and officers on the scene, the property has now passed "into the hands of the Government of Punjab."

Yesterday afternoon, Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf held a press conference, representing the Catholic Church leaders in Lahore. He strongly condemned the act and ordered the executive to "return the area to its rightful owners," as demonstrated by the various documents and to provide adequate compensation for the damage inflicted.

The priest recalled the violence against Christian communities in Gojra and Shantinagar: even gestures such as the demolition of a building and forced expropriation, said Father Emmanuel, sow pain and discomfort among the faithful, as well as a being clear sign of lack of respect for religious freedom and the rights of Christians in Pakistan.

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