A local Catholic leader in Pakistan has spoken out against the illegal confiscation of Church property by the government.
The Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Lahore in northern Pakistan, Bishop Sebastian Francis Shaw, deplored the illegal transfer into state ownership of a piece of land belonging to the Church.
He reported that the transfer has now also been formalized in the land register.
A Caritas center had previously stood on the confiscated land, which was torn down with heavy equipment under police protection on January 9, 2012.
The complex of buildings had included a day care center for old people, a sewing school for girls, a chapel and a convent for sisters, as well as further Catholic Church institutions.
The center has been in the possession of the Church since at least 1887.
“The provincial government had promised on many occasions to give the confiscated land back to us. But not only were these promises not kept, but meanwhile the property has even been transferred into state ownership in the relevant documents,” Bishop Shaw said.
He made his report to international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), saying that a court has already ruled that the transfer of the land to state property took place illegally.
Shaw further stated that, in his opinion, in the case of the severe unrest that occurred on March 9 in a Christian district of Lahore, some government representatives had “had an eye on the land” and wanted to drive out the inhabitants.
The police stood by and did nothing when, two days after accusations of blasphemy made against the Christian Sawan Masih on March 7, some 3,000 men attacked St. Joseph’s Colony and set fire to 178 houses as well as two Christian churches.
In the Bishop’s view, however, it is gratifying that expressions of solidarity with the victims have come from numerous Muslims, along with spontaneous offers of aid.
“A growing consciousness is developing among the population that we are all Pakistanis,” the bishop said.
Bishop Shaw described how representatives of the government, Muslim scholars and a high-ranking Imam came together to visit the scene, give comfort to those affected and express their deep regret. This is the first time that such a thing has happened in this form, said Shaw.
“More and more voices are being raised saying that the whole congregation should not be punished when one of its members unconsciously or even consciously does wrong. This is a good sign.”
With image of Msgr. Sebastian Francis Shaw, OFM, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Lahore in Pakistan (© ACN).
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.