PAKISTAN: Parishioners gather for Mass outside their torched church

Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad presiding at Mass held outside the torched St Paul’s Church, Jaranwala (© Caritas Pakistan Faisalabad)
Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad presiding at Mass held outside the torched St Paul’s Church, Jaranwala (© Caritas Pakistan Faisalabad)

There were tears of sadness and fear in Pakistan yesterday (20th August) as a crowd of 700 attended Mass outside their burnt-out church following one of the country’s worst outbreaks of persecution in a generation.

Amid tight security, Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad presided at the Mass held in the streets of Jaranwala where last Wednesday (16th) thousands of people narrowly fled a mob of thousands who went on the rampage.

Up to 24 churches, hundreds of Christian homes and a Chrisitan cemetery were targeted in the attack which was sparked by reports of a blasphemy allegation against two Christians accused of desecrating the Qur’an.

After the service outside St Paul’s Catholic Church, a Christian community leader, who is not being named for security reasons, told ACN: “Most of the people were crying in the Mass.

“It was a very painful time but a chance to share with one another their sense of loss and sadness.”

Although more than 30 police – including elite forces – were in an attendance, there was fear among those attending the service.

The ACN contact said: “When we went in, local Muslims stopped and stared wide-eyed. They had very angry faces and began cursing us and using abusive language.”

But other Christian leaders reported widespread concern among many Muslims who they said were “ashamed” about what had happened and were wanting to help in any way they could.

They said that Muslim leaders were insisting that those responsible for the violence should be brought to justice.

The ACN contact added that many of the Christians returning to Jaranwala were horrified by the extent of the damage done to their homes and were sleeping on the floor without electric light and unable to cook food.

The friend of ACN said: “People returning to their homes found nothing but they have nowhere else to go – they cannot go on sleeping outside in streets or out in the fields.”

Meantime, today (Monday, 21st August) acting Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar visited Jaranwala and stressed his determination to help bring and peace and justice. 

The ACN contact said however there was widespread anger towards the authorities who instead of carrying out structural assessments of badly damaged buildings have started repainting the blackened walls.

The Church meanwhile yesterday provided food packages, soap and other health care items, cups, plates and other basic household essentials.

The ACN contact said: “Many families are missing meals, they don’t have stoves so they can’t even make tea. They are feeling very emotional and afraid.”