Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
Montreal, June 17th, 2013 – The Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Lahore in northern Pakistan, Bishop Sebastian Francis Shaw, deplores the illegal transfer into state ownership of a piece of land belonging to the Church. He reports that the transfer has now also been formalised in the land register.
A Caritas centre had previously stood on the confiscated land, which was torn down with heavy equipment under police protection on 9 January 2012. The complex of buildings had included a day care centre for old people, a sewing school for girls, a chapel and a convent for sisters, as well as further Catholic Church institutions. The centre has been in the possession of the Church since at least 1887.
“The provincial government had promised on many occasions to give the confiscated land back to us. But not only were these promises not kept, but meanwhile the property has even been transferred into state ownership in the relevant documents,” Shaw reported to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). According to the Bishop, a court has already ruled that the transfer of the land to state property took place illegally.
Shaw said that, in his opinion, also in the case of the severe unrest that occurred on 9 March in a Christian district of Lahore some government representatives had “had an eye on the land” and wanted to drive out the inhabitants. The police stood by and did nothing when, two days after accusations of blasphemy made against the Christian Sawan Masih on 7 March, some 3,000 men attacked St. Joseph’s Colony and set fire to 178 houses as well as two Christian churches.
In the Bishop’s view, however, it is gratifying that expressions of solidarity with the victims have come from numerous Muslims, along with spontaneous offers of aid. “A growing consciousness is developing among the population that we are all Pakistanis. And more and more voices are being raised, saying that the whole congregation should not be punished when one of its members unconsciously or even consciously does wrong. This is a good sign.”
In addition, representatives of the government, Muslim scholars and a high-ranking Imam came together to visit the scene, gave comfort to those affected and expressed their deep regret. This is the first time that such a thing has happened in this form, said Shaw.