PAKISTAN Christians remember victims of Gojra violence


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GOJRA, Pakistan (UCAN) -- More than 500 people packed the Sacred Heart Church in Gojra recently to remember those who died in anti-Christian rioting.

Banners with phrases such as "We salute the dignity of Christian martyrs" and "Martyrs' blood is the seed of the Church," fluttered in the Catholic Church compound during the Aug. 6 memorial Mass.

Photos of the Christians who died in the Aug 1. violence were also placed in front of the altar.

The Mass, celebrated by parish priest Father Shafique Hadayat, saw Church of Pakistan Bishop John Samuel of Faisalabad, sharing his thoughts on the tragedy with the congregation.

He noted that "we live in a world with conflicting beliefs."

"While we believe those killed for their faith go to heaven, there are those who kill others for the promise of heaven. Only the Word of God can bring comfort to our heavy hearts," he said.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minster for Minorities, also attended the Mass.

In his address at the end of Mass, Father Hadayat thanked government authorities for their support during this tragic period. "It was the deadliest attack on Christians in the history of this country," he said. "I believe their blood will not go wasted and will bring about a revolt against the black (blasphemy) laws."

Seven Catholics were burnt alive when a Muslim mob vandalized and looted 68 Christian houses and damaged two Protestant churches in Gojra on Aug. 1. The violence came in the wake of an attack on the nearby Christian village of Korian on July 30. Tensions arose after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home. Muslims then accused the family of blasphemy against Islam.

Blasphemy laws in the Muslim-majority country make an insult to the Qur'an an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

According to Church sources, the death toll from the rioting has now risen to 10, including three children and three women. Police have arrested 80 Muslims for the attacks and a police post has now been established in Gojra.

According to Sri Lankan Sister Teresa Pereira, superior of the Holy Family Sisters, the violence sparked safety concerns for the four nuns who run a school in Gojra. "Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad advised them to leave for Lahore, but they returned to Gojra after only one night. We decided to be with our people in their hour of need," she said.

Federal Minister Bhatti later distributed checks worth 499,400 rupees (US$6,242) among grieving relatives. He also appealed to Christians who fled during the violence to return to Gojra, and announced that the government will rebuild all the damaged houses.

Among those who received compensation was Almas Hamid, a Catholic, whose wife and two of his children were burned alive during the violence. Two other children are still in hospital, he told UCA News, pointing to third-degree burn marks on his back.