Tensions are high in the city of Lahore, following rioting in the Pakistani city on March 9 when 178 homes of Christians were set alight by Muslim mobs in the Joseph Colony area of the Badami Bagh district. Muslims were reacting to charges of blasphemy lain by a Muslim against a Christian man over the weekend.
Christians went to the streets on March 10 to demonstrate peacefully their repudiation of violence. However, Pakistani police fired tear gas and beat some of the protesters, alleging the "demonstration was not authorized." Among the Christians demonstrating along Ferozepur Road, two now have broken legs and hundreds of protesters were arrested. "It is a further violation of human rights of this community," said Catholics quoted by the Fides news service.
The St. Francis parish church was damaged, as was its cross. St. Francis provides both elementary and secondary education at its school. However, because of the tensions, families have decided not to send their children to school for the time being. A local source, quoted by Fides, said "The police has gone far beyond its role of ensuring order and intends to silence the voices of those who ask for justice."
Yesterday also a prayer vigil and a peaceful sit-in in front of the headquarters of the Press Association was held in Lahore. Joining Christians at the vigil was Catholic Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi and Catholic Bishop Sebastian Francis Shaw OFM, who just arrived from Rawalpindi, where he had concluded the Assembly of Pakistani Bishops.
Bishop Shaw asked the government to ensure the safety of Christians and urged the faithful to "overcome the climate of fear and uncertainty, and to maintain an atmosphere of peace and solidarity with the victims." Among those present, was Minister of State for Harmony Akram Masih Gill, who told fellow Pakistanis that "Christians have played a key role in the creation of Pakistan" and asked the provincial government of Punjab and Muslim religious leaders to "come forward to ensure peace and harmony among religions."
Peaceful gatherings of prayer and fasting, to condemn the violence and to demand respect for human rights and peace, were held in Faisalabad, Sargodha and Karachi, where there were more than a thousand Christian women.
(Ed. note: this article corrects an error in the former headline of an earlier version.)