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Christians in Pakistan face rising threat, delegation learns

11/13/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By United Methodist News Service

Christians in Pakistan face an increasing threat of violence, members of a World Council of Churches delegation learned during a recent visit.

Youngsook Kang, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and part of the delegation, called the situation "grave" and said she doesn't expect that to change soon.

Kang and five other church leaders were part of the delegation that visited the cities of Karachi and Lahore in Pakistan Nov. 2-9 to express solidarity with churches and Christians, learn about the challenges they face and hear how the war in Afghanistan is affecting Pakistan. The Church of Pakistan and Presbyterian Church of Pakistan are WCC members, and Christians account for less than 3 percent of the country's population.

The political situation in Pakistan since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has contributed significantly to the threat, Kang told United Methodist News Service in a Nov. 13 interview. While Christians there had previously been persecuted at the personal or family level, the latest attacks have taken place on a public level, at schools, churches or the workplace.

"Christians in Pakistan are associated with the West," she explained.

Several deadly attacks have occurred against Christians in the past year. On March 17, two men threw grenades into a Protestant church close to the American Embassy in Islamabad, killing five people, including an embassy employee and her daughter. On Aug. 5, four men killed six Pakistanis as they tried, but failed, to force their way into a boarding school for the children of Christian missionaries in Jhika Gali. Four days later, three nurses from a Christian missionary hospital in Islamabad were killed in a grenade attack.

Most recently, seven Pakistanis who worked for Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf (Committee for Justice and Peace), a Christian charity in Karachi, were shot to death by two gunmen in their office on Sept. 25. A former officer of Pakistan's air force told the delegation the Karachi attack was "an extreme kind of terrorism never witnessed before - an execution carried out by professionals."

Kang said she will not forget the delegation's emotional meeting with widows and family members of those who had been killed at Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf and the "extreme fear" she saw on their faces. In addition to losing loved ones, the families have been tainted by false rumors that Idara had converted 6,000 Muslims to Christianity. "They fear for their future and for their lives," she noted.

The delegation also got a glimpse of Pakistan's extreme poverty, such as the sight of families who live like slaves as they shape bricks by hand for the kilns. "Christian women are the poorest of the poor," she added.

Delegation members tried to balance their concerns over Christian persecution by considering similar problems faced by Muslims in other countries. Kang said she was impressed by the participation of both Christians and Muslims in the recently formed Muslim-Christian International Federation. During a meeting with the group, the delegation members heard complaints from Muslim leaders about discrimination against Muslims in Western countries through racial profiling, arbitrary arrests and other methods.

At the end of its visit, the WCC delegation called upon that body to continue to monitor the situation of Christians in Pakistan and to support the churches there.

Christians in the West can help by advocating for a "fair and just" foreign policy from their governments and opposing military action in Iraq, which would bring further threats to Christians in Pakistan, according to Kang. Continuing Christian-Muslim dialogues also are essential.

Other delegation members were Bishop Roger Sainsbury, moderator of the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice in the United Kingdom; the Rev. John Moyer, director of Frontier Internship in Mission; Professor Leo Koffeman, adviser for ecumenical relations, Uniting Churches in the Netherlands; Tony Warawantu, international affairs secretary, Christian Conference of Asia; and Clement John of Pakistan, the WCC's executive secretary of international relations.

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