Lahore - The life of Christians in Pakistan is still "difficult and burdensome," the majority belong to the "working class" and must suffer the effects of "social exclusion", says Mgr. Lawrence John Saldanha, Archbishop Emeritus of Lahore, who tells of the life of his community, often the victim of persecution and abuse. Relations with Muslims remain "tense" and based on "suspicion" - says the prelate - and even when ties are established, they are still along the lines of "business relations between master and servant, rarely mixing, if not merely for economic and commercial purposes. " However, this suffering and deprivation urges the faithful to rediscover the role of God in their lives and to seek help and comfort in the Church.
Nearly two weeks after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, there are signs of further violence against Christians. Immediately after the death of the head of Al Qaeda, some Catholic sources have expressed concerns about a new surge of religious intolerance. In fact, for Pakistani Christians, life is always difficult and burdensome. " They belong to the class of poor workers, whose living conditions are miserable. Parents, says the former chairman of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, leave home early in the morning to carry out "hard and tiring" work as domestic workers or street sweepers. "They are employed by Muslim families - he adds - and while they remain in an inferior position, they are tolerated. It is a relationship between servant and master. " Archbishop Saldanha confirms the phenomenon of "separation" in society, which has been repeated for several generations. It is part of a "social system made up of high and low caste" he adds, "Christians are accustomed to this." The divisions persist even in sports: "The situation is worsened - the prelate clarifies - by intolerance and religious extremism. People do not mix with each other, if not merely for economic and commercial purposes. "
However, the Archbishop Emeritus of Lahore also tells of some small signs of hope. "Some positive examples - says Msgr. Saldanha - emerge in Christian schools, where the majority are Muslim. Families [Muslim] meet staff of the Christian school, forging a relationship even though they are mostly commercial in nature. " And in the offices, where Christians are working closely with fellow Muslims. There are some examples of "good will and cooperation," although it is unlikely that the two realities will then "come together to eat or drink." Then there is also the sexual abuse suffered by Christian women, where the bishop admitted that the situation remains "tense and based on mutual suspicion”.
Suffering and persecution, however, have pushed Pakistani Christians to deepen their faith, totally relying on God in everyday life and looking to the Church as a place of comfort and shelter. When there are accusations of blasphemy and events related to the "black law", fear and panic spread within the community. Christians flee their homes, hiding in safer places. "There is a sense of unease and fear in their minds," says Msgr. Saldanha. However, the faithful participate in large numbers at mass "because they find" comfort "in the word of God" Security is very high – he confirms - and this has fostered a great participation, for example, during the Good Friday liturgies. We have seen many more people than before and the Easter celebrations were held across the country in an atmosphere of peace. "(DS)