Pakistani Christians Shocked by Rampage

Archbishop Saldahna Tells of Attacks Against Facilities

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LAHORE, Pakistan, NOV. 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Christians in Pakistan are in shock after fanatics went on the rampage last week and laid waste to churches, schools and other symbols of the Christian faith.

The full story is now emerging of how people in the town of Sangla Hill, in the northeastern province of Punjab, were traumatized when crowds of up to 3,000 people attacked the Christian quarter, pillaging and ransacking at will Nov. 12.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore described how the mob set fire to the town’s United Presbyterian Church before descending on the Catholic Church compound.

Terrified parishioners could only watch as the crowd entered Holy Spirit Church, smashed the marble altar, broke open the tabernacle and scattered the consecrated Hosts on the floor.

The attackers tried to set fire to vestments and benches, but having failed, they carried what they could to the nearby presbytery and there burned it all with the help of gunpowder.

The attackers then turned their fire on two nearby Catholic schools, St. Mary’s and St. Paul’s, smashing up desks and chairs and setting them on fire.

The worst damage was done to the convent chapel, where sacred objects such as chalices and crosses were desecrated.

Refugees

Many of the Christians in Sangla Hill — who represent some 10% of a population of about 10,000 — fled to friends and neighbors, becoming, as Bishop Joseph Coutts of nearby Faisalabad put it, «refugees in their own country.»

Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Saldanha urged continued «support and prayers» from the charity, which has helped with key projects in Sangla Hill, including the erection of a nearby chapel and training for the parish priest of the Holy Spirit Church, Father Samson Dilawar.»

According to Archbishop Saldanha, the crisis was sparked by a gambling dispute involving a Catholic called Yusaf Masih, of Sangla Hill, who won «a significant sum of money» from some Muslim neighbors.

The Muslims refused to pay, and when Masih refused to back down, Archbishop Saldanha said the Muslims set fire to pages of the Koran, blamed it on him and whipped up fury against him in the mosques.

Muslim leaders put out messages on loudspeakers, reportedly saying that as guardians of the Koran, they should «teach a lesson to those unbelievers.»

Call for protection

In an effort to restore calm to the people, Archbishop Saldanha has responded to the attacks by calling on the chief minister of the Punjab to visit the area and see the extent of the damage.

With fellow Christian leaders, the prelate has issued a statement calling on the government to arrest the perpetrators of the crime and to increase police protection for Christians.

Government officials have already pledged to fund repairs to the damaged buildings. Archbishop Saldanha said he had urged the government «to do something drastic,» to stop increasing intolerance toward Christians in Pakistan, especially since the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

«It is the world situation that is doing this to us,» he said. «There is more and more confrontation between different civilizations.»

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