High tension for Catholics in Pakistan: Australian Columban

Tensions are high for Catholics in Pakistan, says Fr Robert McCulloch, a Columban missionary who has worked in the South Asian country for more than 25 years.

With family links to Ballarat and Cheltenham in Victoria, Fr McCulloch (pictured, left) is engaged in various ways with Pakistan, a predominantly Islamic country that is facing increasing inter-religious challenges.

"These have been very tense months for Catholics in Pakistan," says Fr McCulloch, who teaches at Pakistan's National Catholic Theological Institution. "Since late last year, five churches, two convents, four schools, and one clinic have been attacked and burnt down by Muslim fundamentalist mobs," he adds.

Fr McCulloch claims that a spate of recent Muslim fundamentalist mob attacks on churches were calculated and planned.

"There were deliberate sacrilegious attacks on the tabernacles in all cases, and the Blessed Sacrament was desecrated. The mobs knew exactly what they were doing. But the temple built of living stones continues to grow!"

"A few weeks ago," Fr McCulloch says, "I received back 62 people into the Church in a village about three hours' drive out from Badin in interior Sindh. They lapsed twenty years ago due to threats from Hindu bhagats (religious leaders) and finally decided to return. All very familiar in the Catholic experience as a good reading of the history of the Church during the Roman persecutions shows."

Meanwhile, AsiaNews reports that a Pakistani priest has alleged that three Christian brick kiln workers and their families in Pakistan were beaten because they refused to put up with their employers' abuse. Most of their fellow workers have been subjected to violence and abuses by Muslim kiln owners.

Fr Bonnie Mendes, who won last year's recipient of the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia Star Award, made the allegations public at a media conference on 7 July.

In his statement, the clergyman said that Sajjad Masih, Amanat Masih and Mushtaq Masih from the diocese of Faisalabad but living in separate villages refused to put their thumb print on a form as demanded by their employers.

The latter were trying to get workers to sign an affidavit that would have required workers to pay them money not due. When the workers refused, the kiln owners stormed their homes and beat them up as well as their wives and children.

Fr Mendes slammed the treatment meted out to Christian workers. "Owners think they [the workers] are slaves who have worked in such conditions for many generations," he said. But "they need everything: electricity, clean water, health care."

Ayub Anjam, human rights coordinator for the Human Development Centre (HDC) and chairman of the Brick Kiln Union, said that 70 brick kilns are operating in Toba Tek Singh District employing some two thousand workers who labour under unfair conditions, lacking even the most basic rights.

Making matters worse, "the police," he said, "is not on their [the workers'] side. In order to prove they were victims of violence they have to be treated by a doctor, who often refuses. Discrimination is at very high levels."

The HDC has appealed to the government and the High Court to investigate such unfairness and ensure workers "be left to live in peace."

Growing living stones (Columbans 10/7/06)
Christian kiln workers beaten (Asia News 11/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australian Columbans

Melbourne priest joins Columbans in Peru (CathNews,7/7/06)
Pakistan Catholic Commission worried about threat to family (CathNews 4/11/04)
Pakistan minority leaders criticise police over murder investigation (CathNews 11/8/03)

12 Jul 2006