01/07/2014, 00.00
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Lahore, Catholics demand authorities return St. Francis High School

by Jibran Khan
The institute was founded by the Catholic Church in 1842 and is one of the schools of excellence in the city and the country. In violation of the law, the district heads has not yet returned the property to the diocese. Pakistani Priest: we complied with all the provisions, but the authorities "continue to put us off ." The Bishop at the forefront of the protest.

Lahore ( AsiaNews) - Representatives of civil society and activists in Pakistan have joined the Catholic Church , in its demand for the restitution of educational institutions founded by religious communities and later confiscated by the central or local government. Failure to return the buildings and the full management of schools is in violation of previous ordinances and norms issued by the authorities. For the past few weeks, the Church leaders struggle has revolved around the St. Francis of Lahore high school ( Punjab) , in the center of a dispute with the leaders of the district.

Yesterday, a Catholic delegation met with the Minister of Education , presenting the documentation that certifies the ownership of the building and demanding (once again ) its return .

The property was built in 1842 thanks to the efforts of the Pakistani Catholics and in time became one of the most prestigious educational institutions of the city and the country. Fr. Andrew Nisari , priest of the parish of Mary Immaculate Anarkali ( Lahore ), confirms that it is " one of the oldest schools in the city ." The Catholic Church handled the administration until 1972, when the Islamabad government decided to appropriate it in the context of a plan of nationalization of the entire education sector.

In 2004, the government announced a plan to return these educational facilities to their private owners; in the context of the process of "denationalization" 16 schools in Lahore were returned to the archdiocese. All but the very institution dedicated to the saint of Assisi. "The Church has complied with all the provisions of the law - said Fr . Nisari - including the advance deposit of six months for the salaries of employees. But the district government continues to delay the proceedings and will not return to school" to its rightful owners.

In recent months, the Archbishop Msgr . Sebastian Shaw filed a petition to the court in Lahore to settle the matter. In May last year, the judges ordered the authorities to restore the building to its rightful owners. The prelate himself led two protests last month and decided to take matters in hand speaking out against the land mafias and corrupt officials.

At least 70 educational institutions of the country, including the Gordon College, Rawalpindi, Murray College Sialkot , St. Patrick's College in Karachi and many others are still under the (illegitimate)  control of the governments of Punjab and Sindh. Catholic personalities and community members have repeatedly made appeals, presented petitions and requests to the judges of the High Court, given that any action taken so far has proved futile .

With a population of over 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world and the second Muslim nation after Indonesia. Just under 80 per cent are Sunni Muslim, and 20 per cent are Shia. Hindus are around 1.85 per cent; Christians are 1.6 per cent and Sikhs 0.04 per cent.  Violence against ethnic or religious minorities is commonplace across the country, especially Christians a favorite target for Islamic fundamentalists. There have been dozens of incidents of violence, including targeted attacks against entire communities - Gojra in 2009 or Joseph Colony Lahore in March last year - or abuses against individuals, often perpetrated under the pretext of blasphemy laws.


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