The 4 Freedoms Library

It takes a nation to protect the nation

SOS Pakistan: The Vatican raises the alarm over the Christian situation



First the Pontifical Mission Societies, then Vatican Radio. The Pope also reminded diplomats that the situation is getting very serious

Giacomo Galeazzi
vatican city

In his message to the 180 accredited ambassadors at the Roman Curia, which commemorated the martyrdom of the Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Religious Minorities (killed on 2 March of last year for his opposition to the blasphemy law and his defense of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for this reason), Benedict XVI openly voiced his concern. Now the Holy See comes more to the point, drawing international attention to religious persecution in the Muslim-majority country, denouncing the rape and torture of Christian children, extortion of families, abuse and violence that take place in silence - and in the terror of the victims.

Through its media channels, the Vatican denounced the violence and abuses that are taking place in the Christian communities of some suburban neighborhoods in Karachi, the largest city in southern Pakistan and capital of Sindh province. Michael Javed, Catholic parliamentarian active in Sindh, spoke out for the religious minority subjected to cruel persecution, and, through Vatican Radio and Fides news agency, issued a dramatic warning: for months, Christians in the Essa Nagri, Ayub Goth, and Bhittaiabad neighborhoods have been the victims of unspeakable violence perpetrated by members of political movements with strong Islamic and ethnic connotations, such as the Pashtuns. Christian families are living through an ordeal, but “people do not report abuse, for fear of retaliation.” Just last month, Javed told Fides, “We recorded 15 cases of rape.”

In Essa Nagri there are genuine “torture cells” where girls - and Christian girls - are raped and confined. “They demand a ransom of up to 100,000 rupees for them, and if the families cannot pay, the little girls are tortured beyond recognition.” As a result of such violence, many families have chosen to leave Karachi over the last six months. “The purpose of such violence is to eliminate Christian presence in the area, a sort of ethnic cleansing: we are considered slaves, unworthy to tread on Pakistani soil.” In another reported case, a brothel was opened near a Catholic church in Ayub Goth, and “Christian girls from poor families are being forced into prostitution.” The authorities, though informed, have not acted yet. Javed made a desperate appeal to the world “to stop the oppression of our community.” Fides contacted Fr. Victor John, a Franciscan from the diocese of Karachi, pastor at Essa Nagri (where 700 Christian families are living, 300 of them Catholic) and pastor for the area of Ayub Goth (with about 300 Christian families): “These are very poor neighborhoods, infested with crime and lawlessness. Violence and torture are committed by members of Islamic political parties who blackmail people for political consensus, but also by militants who are hostile to the faithful. Drug trafficking is rife in the area and the police remain complacent.

“They lack schools and social services and, in this atmosphere of poverty, violence reigns.” Meanwhile, blasphemy laws are spreading, imposing death sentences or life imprisonment for displaying lack of respect for the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran. “The Church,” Michael Javed continues, “is present in the schools with a drug rehabilitation center, with the work of the Sisters of Mother Teresa and the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We provide our services particularly to children and young people, trying to help them, to educate them to avoid becoming involved in crime.” Pakistan's Conference of Bishops complains that the 2.5 million Christians in the country are increasingly exposed to violence and intimidation by people “whose mentality is focusing progressively on an extreme form of Islam.” And, they add: “Our people fear for the future - people perceive themselves as second rate citizens. We cannot speak. We feel oppressed and repressed.” Accusing the government of having failed to effectively oppose fundamentalism, the Pakistani bishops warn that the situation is now “precarious.” Increased security measures have been implemented in Christian buildings. The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Lahore is under police surveillance, with video cameras, concrete barriers, sandbags, and walls. Before 1986, there were no allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan. In addition, about 1,000 cases have occurred over a period of 20 years, while 70 people, accused only of blasphemy, have been victims of extrajudicial executions. Recently, an American commission on religious freedom published a report showing how children in Pakistani schools are indoctrinated into intolerance towards minorities. The results were supported by the Director of the Dominican Center in Lahore, who demanded an urgent reform of the education system in Pakistan.

The government study, published by the Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIFR), revealed that public schools in Pakistan and Islamic religious schools (known as “madrassas”) negatively depict religious minorities and reinforce prejudices, fomenting acts of discrimination and possible violence against these communities. According to the report, a significant minority of the thousands of religious schools or madrassas continue to inculcate ideological indoctrination and to incite those who take part in the religious-inspired violence in Pakistan and in other countries. The Holy See, on the one hand, asks the government for urgent action to stop the false accusations of blasphemy, the hate speech, and impunity for acts of violence against religious minorities; while on the other hand, it urges the government to invest resources and energy in improving interfaith relations and promote a genuine and comprehensive reform of the education system in the country. Religious freedom in Pakistan is conditioned “by the dark shadows of Islamic extremism,” but also by the intolerance, lawlessness, and impunity growing in the country. And it is not just the Vatican that is speaking out in defense of religious minorities in Pakistan. Even the latest report published by the NGO “Christian Solidarity Worldwide” (CSW) describes the “grave situation in Pakistan.” The NGO reports that religious violence does not spare Sufi sanctuaries and the “Ahmadi” group, considered a sect of Islam: all minorities are struggling to seek justice and respect for their fundamental rights.   

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Replies to This Discussion

"Now the Holy See comes more to the point, drawing international attention to religious persecution in the Muslim-majority country, denouncing the rape and torture of Christian children, extortion of families, abuse and violence that take place in silence - and in the terror of the victims."

I'm glad to see the Pope is drawing attention to it.  I think Pakistan was founded on evil ("the land of the pure", based on islamic law).  And I have to wonder if this kind of inhuman behaviour has been going on for the last 60 years.  And it is only on the basis of having a different Pope, or a world more concerned about islam that this pope is speaking out. 

I remember speaking to a Religious sister (Catholic) who worked as a midwife in Pakistan for over 20 years.  She told a story of young man who left the Islamic religion and became a Catholic priest.  he left his country and home for a long time, i think she said 10-12 years.  He then thought it would be okay to return to see his family and community.  on his return he was killed.  When these happen in an international organisation of long standing they are not forgotten.

I understand the difficulties of the pope speaking out because he must consider the reaction his critism may have. ie Muslims going mental killing each other, and catholic's/ christians around the world.

But death is the out come of NOT speaking out, so it makes no logical sense to ignore the inhuman treatment that continues to blight mankind. And speaking out is not something  that should be left to the pope. What about our own anglican leaders, and of cause our own political leaders.

It seems to have been left to the local clergy in far off lands to show the level of courage needed to stand up to islamic brutality.  Its great that the pope has spoken up, its now time to back up the words! The continued appeasement of islam is just allowing 'it' and 'it's' followers to gain in strength and confidence.    


yes leaders such as the Pope are caught between a rock and a hard place.  How social change, particularly great social change, takes place is not completely understandable.  Stalin once was told that when he was contemplating some sort of policy change or political move, that what he was planning would offend the Pope.  His reply was, 'How many divisions does the Pope have.'  Well we know happened to Stalin's empire.  How Islam will go is anyone's guess but I feel certain that the Pope, the present one and future ones, will play their part.  And so must we.


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