Pakistani-American Catholics and Christians protest near the United Nations headquarters in New York City Aug. 24, 2023, over Pakistan's discrimination and persecution of Christians and a recent wave of attacks on 26 churches in Jaranwala, about 210 miles north of Islamabad, the capital. OSV News photo/Steven Schwankert, The Good Newsroom

Canada’s Pakistanis condemn homeland’s violence

  • August 31, 2023

Canadian Christians of Pakistani heritage filled Celebration Square in Mississauga, Ont., in mid-August — not in joy but in sorrowful protest.

Unofficial estimates from organizers are that about 400 people gathered Aug. 22 to bear witness against recent escalation in violence against the minority Christian population in northern Pakistan.

Mumtaz Shah, vice chair of Charismatic Social Integration of Canada (CSIOC), the non-profit group that organized the event, says the latest wave of church burnings in his home country inspired many people to come out for the demonstration.

“People who have been in Canada for over 30 years or more told me they have never seen such a huge rally of Pakistani Canadian Christians before,”  Shah told The Catholic Register.

Nor was it only Christians who were moved to participate in the protest, said Shah.

“I spoke with a Muslim woman who shared that, despite her other commitments, she had joined the rally to unequivocally condemn the Jaranwala incident,” he said.

The reference was to Aug. 16 violence when mobs looted and burned churches and homes in Jaranwala, a town in the Punjabi region, after accusations of blasphemy, including desecration of the Quran, were made against two local Christian brothers.

About 24 churches of various denominations, over 100 homes and a Christian cemetery were damaged. Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic aid organization, reported that about 2,000 Christians fled the town after the terrifying events.

Four days following the violence, Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalbad presided over an outdoor Mass under police guard. Over 700 Catholics attended the Mass, steps away from the burned remains of St. Paul’s Church.

According to Mario Bard, head of communications for ACN Canada, “the situation is very bad for Christians and the blasphemy law is a big problem.”

Bard says the blasphemy laws  — Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code — are being used to separate Christians from their property.

“Let’s say that I want your land or your house,” Bard said. “I accuse you of having ripped one page of the Quran or having said something about the Prophet that is not appropriate. Depending on the place you live, the police won’t do any investigation. The word spreads that you are a blasphemer, and a mob shows at your door anytime. Your children cannot go outside, even to play with their best friends who may be Muslims.”

In those circumstances, many Pakistani Christians feel they have little option but to move away. 

In an Aug. 22 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Joseph Tanveer, CSIOC chair, called on the Canadian government to recognize the “perilous situation” of Christians in Pakistan.

Along with the four other organizations and two churches that signed the CSIOC letter, Tanveer urged the government to “officially recognize Christians in Pakistan as a persecuted class.”

Warning of the threat if they return to Pakistan, the groups called on Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) “to halt the deportation of Pakistani Christians seeking asylum and refuge in Canada.”

Concluding with a statement of trust in their new country’s good will, the Canadians from Pakistan expect a “definitive response … one that embodies Canada’s unwavering dedication to justice, human rights and global welfare.”

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