ASIA/PAKISTAN - Reopening of churches in Jaranwala: a sign of hope

Tuesday, 29 August 2023 religious minorities   islam   local churches  

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - "We thanked God because, even in suffering, he is present beside us. In the church, already renovated and accessible, we prayed for peace with many faithful, with Muslim leaders seated next to each other, and with many men of good will, who want to build the peaceful coexistence of different religions in society": It is in these terms that the Archbishop of Lahore, Msgr. Sebastian Shaw, tells Agenzia Fides the prayer meeting held in the Catholic Church of the Christian quarter of Essa Nagri in Jaranwala, already cleaned, repainted, furnished and made available for worship, thanks to the timely reconstruction works ordered and financed by the Punjab government in the area affected by the August 16 violence. "It is for all of us a sign of rebirth. We are convinced that God can make good flourish from evil. We have listened and consoled the victims. The process of recovery has begun, it is important to continue on this path ", says the Archbishop, who has been to Jaranwala several times in recent days, also in the company of various delegations of Muslim leaders who have shown their solidarity (see Fides, 25/8/2023).
The Archbishop wishes to recount a symbolic episode: "Muslim leader Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, head of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, wanted to personally reassure a young Christian girl about to get married who had lost all her "dowry", the set of goods prepared, according to tradition, for several years, before her marriage, in the fire of the family house. Ashrafi blessed the girl, symbolically placed a veil on her head and declared that he would compensate and would buy back the young girl's dowry, so that she can marry in joy. A beautiful gesture, which illustrates the spirit of closeness", he says. Of approximately 30 damaged, burned or vandalized churches and chapels (seven Salvation Army churches, three Catholic churches, three Presbyterian churches and other chapels or worship halls belonging to independent Christian denominations), four churches have already been restored or are being rapidly completed to be reopened for worship at Jaranwala, including a Catholic church. The works ordered by the provincial government were immediate and financial assistance of 2 million rupees (over 6,600 USD) has already been paid to each family affected by the violence. In some cases, such as one of the Salvation Army churches, founded 119 years ago, renovation will be slower because, being a historic building, it cannot be demolished and rebuilt from zero, but a more careful and reasoned restoration must be undertaken, preserving the walls and the parts with historical value. The churches are surrounded by burnt houses, on both sides of the streets of the district. Amidst the rubble, Christian families can be seen laboriously and patiently trying to clean up the area and restore their homes. Alongside them are many volunteers and religious engaged in daily support work. Faithful Christians all over Pakistan bring deep and active solidarity to the homeless displaced people. Among them, the Capuchin Friars of Punjab provide food aid, clothing and household items, but they also stop to pray with the victims. "At first, we organized emergency aid to the suffering population, consisting of material aid and psychological and spiritual support. In addition, to make Pakistan a peaceful nation, we are always ready for dialogue, even when it comes to cases such as those that give rise to false accusations of blasphemy", Capuchin Father Qaisar Feroz, executive secretary of the Commission for Communications of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan, told Fides. We are struck, continues the brother, by what the fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in Jaranwala. Rumors and accusations of blasphemy and calls for action came from the loudspeakers of the mosque, thousands of men gathered in the city and attacked churches and Christian homes. The mission calls for impunity for organized Muslim religious groups that incite violent actions against religious minorities. The government must take strict measures against incitement to hatred against any community". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 29/8/2023)