By Charles Igwe
In the aftermath of aggressive mobs targeting Christian homes and churches in Pakistan on August 16, the country’s Catholic bishops have designated Sunday, August 20, as a Day of Prayer. In response to the violence in Jaranwala, they have invited Christians and people of goodwill to unite in prayer “for peace and harmony in our nation.”
Archbishop Benny Travas of Karachi expressed his “shock and disbelief” in the wake of Wednesday’s incident, highlighting the “open hatred and uncontrollable rage” directed towards the Christian community.
The most recent attack unfolded on Wednesday morning when a multitude of Muslims assaulted a Christian community in Jaranwala, situated in the industrial region of Faisalabad, Pakistan. The assailants reportedly acted in response to alleged blasphemous content found on torn pages of the Quran, which were presented to a local religious leader. The leader reportedly incited the Muslim population to protest and demanded the arrest of those deemed responsible.
The mob carried out a violent rampage, looting homes and setting around 22 churches ablaze or causing damage. In response to the extensive violence, additional police forces and the army were dispatched to restore order.
Thus far, 128 individuals have been arrested in connection with the attack, including two held responsible for the destruction. The Punjab government has formed a committee to investigate the incident and pledged to rebuild the churches and homes that were destroyed.
However, for the beleaguered Christian community in Pakistan, these commitments must extend beyond mere words and translate into concrete action.
Archbishop Travas questioned the allegations of blasphemy, stressing that as the leader of the Catholic community in Karachi, he struggled to fathom the idea of his people showing disrespect towards any religion or religious texts.
Highlighting the repeated condemnation from politicians and government officials following such incidents, Travas noted that these statements often amounted to empty promises. He urged the government to demonstrate genuine solidarity with Pakistan’s Christian community “in this hour of grief” through decisive action against those who took the law into their own hands.
Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad, president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, alongside Bishop Yousaf Sohan of Multan, visited the scene of the violence in Jaranwala to offer prayers and comfort to those affected.
Various Muslim leaders have also visited the site, expressing their sympathy and solidarity with the Christian community. Peaceful protests led by Archbishop Travas and organized by the bishops’ Commission for Interfaith Dialogue took place in Karachi and Hyderabad, with demonstrators condemning the violence through speeches and banners.