Christians in Pakistan’s Gojra city are determined to forge ahead with events marking the first anniversary of some of the country’s worst anti-Christian atrocities, despite fresh violence which left two young men dead.
Memorial events climaxing with a high-profile Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad are due to take place in Gojra on Sunday, 1st August, the first anniversary of atrocities in which eight people died.
Speaking from Pakistan on July 21st, Gojra parish priest Father Yaqub Masih told Aid to the Church in Need that the memorial service and other events would still be going ahead despite a fresh wave of violence and unrest following the killings of two young Christians in the nearby city of Faisalabad. Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his 30-year-old brother Sajid Emmanuel were shot dead on July 19th outside a law court.
The killings came as tensions ran high after the two men were acquitted of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed by allegedly writing a document criticizing him. The incident sparked violence in the Emmanuel brothers’ home district of Waris Pura, Faisalabad, where a number of people were injured. Angry Muslims threw stones at Waris Pura’s Catholic Church of the Holy Rosary.
Despite the heightened tension, Fr Yaqub made clear that the people were determined to continue with plans to mark the anniversary of the Gojra violence. He said people wanted to honor those who died, including seven members of one family trapped in their home, set ablaze by arsonists.
Fr Yaqub said: “The situation is bad for Christians here. We are scared and we feel persecuted but we are determined to go ahead with the memorial events here in Gojra.” He explained that the memorial service would be especially poignant for one Gojra family who are closely related to the Emmanuel brothers killed in Faisalabad on Monday.
In an interview with Fides news agency July 20th, Bishop Coutts underlined the “tragic situation” of Christians in Pakistan. Stating that in his view “no real progress” had been made to improve security for Christians since the Gojra atrocities, Bishop Coutts recalled the remarks he had made during the funeral of the Emmanuel brothers, a service which he conducted.
He said: “I told our people that we would offer the blood of these innocent men together with the Blood of Christ. It will further our salvation and, we hope, heal our city of Faisalabad of the sickness of hatred and violence.” Bishop Coutts called for renewed efforts to make the “Universal Church” aware of the plight of Christians in Pakistan.
Aid to the Church in Need is appealing for help to support the Church in Pakistan, with projects including formation of seminarians, Sisters and lay catechists, Bibles and other catechetical materials, Mass stipends for priests and construction of churches and other religious buildings.