Six churches reopen in Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden’s city
by Kamran Chaudhry

The places of worship closed in December in the wake of an attack against the Methodist church in Quetta. Congregations meet in homes or rented premises. The official provincial approval has still not been given.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province* (north-western Pakistan) has allowed six home-based churches to re-open in Abbottabad, the city known worldwide for being Osama bin Laden’s hideout.

"Although the chief minister's coordinator for minorities Ravi Kumar informed us by phone, we are still waiting for an official notice," said Father Arshad Nayer of Saint Peter Canisius Catholic Church, speaking to AsiaNews. “This is why I suggested to interested pastors to celebrate Sunday prayers in closed churches, to provoke a reaction from the government."

About 400 Christian families live in Abbottabad, including 75 Catholics. The churches affected by the measure are the Assembly of God Church, United Presbyterian Church, Emmanuel Pentecostal Church, Kingdom of God Church and two Evangelical churches.

The Christian places of worship were closed for security reasons after an attack on 17 December against the Methodist church in Quetta, in which nine people died and 57 others were injured.

Fr Nayer noted that "all the churches, deemed illegal by the government, are not registered with the Auqaf Department** and are located in residential or rented buildings. Police had warned that they would not take the blame for any mishap in prayer gatherings in residential areas.”

Fr Nayer noted that “Local mosques do not need a No Objection Certificate from provincial governments, and the same policy should be adopted for churches as well." The certificate is required for national or international groups that want to operate in any given area.

Rev Sadiq Masih, pastor at the United Presbyterian Church, was one of those who heeded the call to celebrate religious services in closed churches. He offered thanksgiving prayers yesterday.

"We received the closure notice after New Year’s Mass,” he explained. “We shall soon legalise our status. God’s work cannot stop."

* Formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)

** Auqaf Department is in charge of Mosques, shrines and other religious institutions