01/03/2022, 13.21
PAKISTAN
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Lahore Church helps 20 former Christian inmates start their own businesses

by Shafique Khokhar

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw and Aid to the Church in Need have helped Christians released from prison start their own small businesses. They were accused of killing two Muslims after the 2015 Easter attacks. For Fr Francis Gulzar, “Those who received this help are called to promote harmony by helping others in their time of need.”

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore has helped 20 former Christian inmates open their own businesses.

Thanks to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Mgr Shaw was able for a second time to help the rehabilitation of Christians accused of involvement in the murder of two Muslims during a protest that followed the Easter suicide bombings on 15 March 2015.

On that day, two churches – St John's Catholic church and Christ Church (Protestant) – Youhanabad (Lahore) were attacked, leaving 27 people dead with more than 70 injured.

Despite a lack of evidence, scores of people were arrested in connection with the two deaths that occurred during the protest that followed the attacks.

“Two (inmates) died in prison but some were released after long negotiations,” the archbishop said. "We thought about helping them start a business after their release so they could earn some money and support their families.”

“Our people were praying when the terrorist attacks took place”, Archbishop Shaw explained. “At least 1,500 people were in the church for Mass and one, Akash Bashir, who was on duty as part of the security detail, sacrificed his life for others.”

Since the 2015 attack, two Christian defendants have died in prison. For its part, the National Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan paid for the legal costs of 12 defendants, including a Muslim.

Last year, another 20 or so former inmates received the same kind of assistance from the archdiocese and ACN.

“This help shows that God also provides for people on the margins," said Shakar Habib, one of the beneficiaries. On 28 December, he took over a small business and wanted to thank ACN for the support given to the Christian community.

Fr Francis Gulzar, priest at St John parish in Youhanabad and vicar general of the archdiocese of Lahore, was also grateful. “Those who received this help are called to promote harmony by helping others in their time of need,” he said.

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