More Than Half A Million Expected To Join Annual Pilgrimage To Mariambad
In Lahore 5-7 September
Service) 3/9/2003. At least half a million people are expected to
join the annual pilgrimage to Mariambad in the archdiocese of Lahore
5-7 September. The pilgrimage, now a central annual event for the
Catholic Church in Pakistan, is known as Ziarat, and it has become
a tradition for all Pakistani Catholics who are deeply devoted to
the Blessed Virgin Mary. The shrine was built in 1949 by a Belgian
Franciscan missionary Father Frank who died a martyr.
clergy, religious men and women travel from all over the country
to Mariambad in Punjab. Mariambad, which means City of Mary lies
95 km south of the regional capital Lahore. The pilgrims come on
foot, on bicycles, with all sorts of public and private means of
transport to shrine for the three day celebration, to pray for the
intercession of Mary to obtain special graces from God.
us, as ordained ministers - Archbishop Lawrence Saldhana tells Fides
- the pilgrimage is an opportunity to renew the offering of our
life to the Lord and our commitment to serve the people. For all
the faithful Ziarat is an occasion of intense prayer, interior cleansing
and healing of body and soul. The pilgrims receive the sacraments
of reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist and are renewed in faith
and spirit and this has also a good effect on their daily life."
the Catholic community in Pakistan will live this important annual
event at a time of tension with certain sectors of the Muslim community.
However, Muslim believers are also expected to attend the pilgrimage
as usual and the local clergy say this could help heal the rift
and re-establish friendly relations between Muslims and Christians
in Pakistan. PA
Centenary Of Francisabad St Francis City, A Little Assisi In Pakistan,
Christian Oasis In A Mainly Muslim Land
(Fides Service) A hundred years ago Belgian Capuchin Father Philip
came on mission to Pakistan and built a village to which he gave
the name of St Francis and which is known locally as Francisabad.
Today the village, situated in the province of Faisalabad, is preparing
for its centenary in 2004. In those early days 53 Catholic families
settled around the Franciscan Mission which had a chapel, the friars
house and a convent of Franciscan nuns. Each family was given 25
hectares of land. Later the village acquired a girls school run
by Dominican Sisters and a dispensary. The village people are good
workers and good Catholics and they handed on the faith and Christian
moral and spiritual values from father to son, from mother to daughter.
Today in Francisabad there are 370 families, some 3,000 people,
all Catholics. The land is not very fertile, mostly desert and water
is scarce and the people just manage to produce enough food for
daily needs. But the faith bears much fruit in vocations: 3 priests,
25 nuns, 3 Brothers and even a bishop, as well as many teachers
and catechists. "Next year will be our own personal jubilee"
the villagers say. "We will commemorate the planting of the
village and thank God for all that he has done for us in these hundred
years". The local Friars say: "Francisabad is a Christian
oasis in a Muslim land where the spirit of Francis lives on in the
simplicity and the poverty of the people who have complete trust
in Divine Providence and never forget to thank God in the troubles
and the joys of daily life." PA (Fides Service 21/5/2003)
Pakistani Catholics Organize in Scotland
Nov. 25, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Pakistani Catholics in exile in Scotland
have founded "Voice for the Voiceless," a support network
in Glasgow for "the forgotten victims" of sectarianism,
the Scotsman newspaper reported.
laws are a major problem," said Asif Mall, a spokesman for
the group. Children as young as 12 are awaiting execution in Pakistan
on blasphemy convictions, he added.
the Pakistan Christian Post reports, Islamic militants have attacked
Christian churches, a school, a hospital and other Christian organizations
in the past year. In the most recent of these events, authorities
initially charged a Christian boy with the crime, relenting only
after exonerating evidence was given by the only other survivor
of the assault.
As Father Gerry
Nugent of Glasgow said of the new group: "We want to speak
to our community, our neighbors and religious leaders, and get word
to Christians in Pakistan, to let them know they have a voice.
Convicted of Blasphemy May Die
- The life of a Christian convicted of blasphemy against the Prophet
Mohamed is in the hands of Pakistan's Supreme Court which will hear
his appeal in the next two or three months. Ayub Masih, in his early
thirties, has been in solitary confinement since October 14, 1996,
in a cell 2m by 1.3m without light and where day temperatures are
as a high as 49 degrees C. If the court upholds the previous court's
decision, Masih would be the first person to be executed under the
country's blasphemy legislation. He has been sentenced to death
In Pakistan's Penal Code the section 295C blasphemy law, introduced
in 1986, has a mandatory death penalty for anyone "who by words
either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any
imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly"
who defiles the Prophet Mohammed. Observers say it is not uncommon
for allegations to be motivated by anti-Christian feelings, personal
prejudice or selfish gain.
Ayub Masih was arrested for blasphemy on October 14, 1996 in his
village, Arifabad in Sahiwal District (about 700km from Islamabad)
on a complaint filed by a Muslim neighbour Muhammed Akram. Akram
alleged he heard Ayub saying "If we want to know the truth
about Islam read Salman Rushdie". He was found guilty and given
a death sentence on April 27 1998. Shortly afterwards, on May 6,
the Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, John Joseph, who was trying to
have the blasphemy law abolished, committed suicide on the steps
of Sahiwal Law Court in an extreme act of protest. On July 25 2001,
the Multan Bench of Lahore High Court rejected the appeal made by
UK based Christian
Solidarity Worldwide, says "the wording of the blasphemy law
is notoriously vague. Anyone can be accused, there is no requirement
to prove intent. The accusation against Ayub Masih was fabricated
in order to force fifteen Christian families in his village to drop
a land dispute. No substantial evidence was produced to prove his
guilt at either his trail or his recent appeal. The guilty verdict
is believed to be the result of immense pressure from Islamic fundamentalists".
are also asking for the repeal of the blasphemy law. A Bill of repeal,
number 349, has been presented in parliament. In May 2000 General
Musharraf announced a change in the law but then withdrew the statement
after pressure by Muslim fundamentalists, to the disappointment
of minority groups in Pakistan.
a population 140 million 97% Muslim. There are about 3 million Christians
who appeal to the secular nature of the state proclaimed by its
founding father Ali Jinnah in 1947. (Fides 16/3/2002)
in Pakistan Fear a "Christmas Bloodbath" Threatened With
ISTANBUL, Turkey, DEC. 4, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Five weeks after Islamic
extremists murdered 15 Christians in a worship service, church leaders
across Pakistan say their congregations remain "tense and fearful"
as Christmas approaches, Compass Direct reports.
"My people are a bit afraid," Bishop John Victor Mall
of the Church of Pakistan said from Multan. "I would not say
they have lost their faith, but they have definitely lost their
Bishop Mall said many Christians were uneasy about attending Advent
programs in his diocese, which includes the Bahawalpur congregation
which was attacked Oct. 28. Normally well attended, the Christmas
celebrations are often held in the evenings after dark, he noted.
The Protestant bishop said he met last week with Multan's deputy
inspector general (DIG) of police, who promised to increase security
arrangements for all the local churches' Christmas programs this
"But the DIG cannot put many policemen everywhere, so some
Christians will be afraid to come," the bishop said.
Threats of a "Christmas bloodbath" against Christians
have proliferated in Pakistan since late October, when the al-Qaida
terrorist organization demanded the death of two Christians in retaliation
for every Muslim killed in the U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan.
Christians compose less than 3% of the national population of Pakistan.
The Bahawalpur massacre, carried out by masked gunmen two days
after the terrorist threat came out in Pakistani newspapers, was
the worst single massacre of Christians in Pakistan's 54-year history.
The slayers had shouted Islamic slogans while mowing down their
victims, declaring their attack was "just the beginning"
of making Afghanistan and Pakistan the "graveyard of Christians."
"It's the unpredictability of it all," another Protestant
bishop from the Punjab commented.
"It can happen anytime, anywhere," agreed a Christian
layman in Karachi. "Yesterday it was Bahawalpur; tomorrow it
can be Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, or anywhere."
Within a week of the Bahawalpur killings, Pakistan police authorities
reported that about 120 suspects from hard-line Islamist groups
had been rounded up. However, so far only one man, who was accused
of sending faxes on behalf of the Lashkar-e-Umar militants claiming
responsibility for the massacre, has been identified by police investigators.
"The authorities are always very secretive about investigations
into attacks against Christians," a Church leader in Lahore
told Compass last week. "They don't want to go out of their
way to be seen to punish Muslims."
Yet, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's initial handling of
the Bahawalpur massacre "left no doubt of government sincerity"
in declaring that such acts of terrorism will not be tolerated,
one Protestant bishop said. Police authorities promptly stepped
up security around churches, he noted.
"But what about the individual Christians who are coming out
of their houses every day to go to work?" asked M.L. Shahani,
a Baptist layman and lawyer in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. "The
president must take concrete steps toward confidence-building in
the non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan. Without that, the Christian
community will be left in the lurch."
Only nine days after the Bahawalpur massacre, another member of
the city's Christian community was shot and killed at his job by
suspected Islamist militants.
Benjamin Bashir, 25, a member of St. Dominic's Catholic Church,
was riddled with 19 bullets as he guarded the strategic installations
at the Quetta airport on Nov. 7. The Airport Security Force officer
had been the sole provider for his mother and family since his father
went blind, said Catholic Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan.
Two days later, another Catholic was shot to death in Peshawar,
capital of the northwest frontier province near the Afghan border.
Married, with two small children, Waheed Paul was last seen by his
wife on the morning of Nov. 9, as he went in the gates to his office.
According to CRAA, an Afghan-run NGO that employed him as an accountant,
he did not report for work that morning.
Although known as a devout Christian, Paul was not involved in
any church ministry. "It seems clear that the cause for killing
him was the fact that he was a Christian," a source said.
In Bahawalpur, the main sanctuary of St. Dominic's Catholic Church,
where the massacre took place, was re-consecrated in a solemn Mass
on Nov. 15, celebrated by Bishop Francis.
Now back in use by both the local Catholic community and the small
Protestant congregation, the prayer hall has been scrubbed of the
bloodstains, fresh jute mats placed on the floor and shattered windows
repaired. However, the pockmarks of 142 bullets still deface its
walls and altar.
All five of the Christians seriously wounded in the attack are
"improving slowly," Bishop Francis said, but two of them
are still hospitalized.