KOENIGSTEIN, Germany, FEB. 27, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The president of Pakistan’s episcopal conference called on the government to protect Christians in the wake of increased violence and pressure to convert to Islam.
In a statement coinciding with last week’s presidential elections, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore described to Aid to the Church in Need the growing “hatred and intolerance” of militant groups whom, he said, were contravening Pakistan’s constitution by trying to force Christians to turn to Islam.
Archbishop Saldanha highlighted the case of a young Catholic father of four who was kidnapped and threatened with death.
During his captivity, last month, the banker, whom the archbishop referred to as Haroon, was ordered to phone his wife and tell her that he would be killed if she dared to inform the police. He was later able to escape.
His kidnappers are part of Jamaat-ul-Dawah, which has been classified as a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom, Pakistan and other countries.
Stressing how religious freedom is enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution, Archbishop Saldanha called on the government to crack down on extremism.
He wrote: “Haroon’s story illustrates a new trend that underlines the difficulties and pressures of living in a land where extremism is growing and there is little tolerance for people who are non-Muslims.
“Especially Christians who live in remote and isolated towns are vulnerable. Here the level of hatred and intolerance is even more intense.
“Fortunately Haroon is an educated man and strong in his Catholic faith. He was able to resist his attackers.”
In the message, Archbishop Saldanha went on to describe the plight of Christian girls who are abducted and forced to marry Muslim boys and change their religion.
These events follow warnings issued by Archbishop Saldanha last May that Muslim extremists were now trying to force Christians to convert by threatening violence.
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the archbishop highlighted a case where about 500 Christians had received anonymous letters warning of violent retribution if a mass conversion to Islam did not follow within 10 days.
At the time, Archbishop Saldanha said: “It distresses us that Christians are threatened in an attempt to force them to convert to Islam. This is something that has never happened before. We Christians are citizens, just like everyone else, and wish to have the same rights.”
Aid to the Church in Need provides over $850,000 annually to support Christians in Pakistan.