.- "The Pakistani government should protect us Christians", demands Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, who is also chairman of the Pakistani bishops' conference, in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
"We Christians are citizens, just like everyone else, and wish to have the same rights. And outside countries should likewise make more effort to speak up for our safety", he adds. According to the archbishop, Christians in Pakistan feel more insecure than ever before. "It distresses us that Christians are threatened, in an attempt to force them to convert to Islam. This is something that has never happened before", he adds.
Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha has witnessed an increasing radicalisation among Muslim believers. "They want to introduce a stricter form of Islam, above all the sharia law. Women would then no longer be able to leave the house to go to work or to school and they would have to wear veils."
Recently Muslim fanatics attacked businesses in the capital, Islamabad, where videos were on sale which the extremists regarded as contrary to Islam. On 5 May, in the northwest of the country, some 50 Christian families, some of them Catholic, some Protestant, received anonymous threatening letters, calling on them to convert to Islam. They had 10 days time to decide, the letter told them; otherwise they could expect violent consequences. So far these threats have not been carried out, but the people are still living in fear. Christian communities throughout the country have expressed their solidarity with these threatened families.
There are also attacks against Christians in other regions of Pakistan. A few days ago, according to a spokeswoman for the "Daughters of Saint Paul", some of the sisters of their order had got caught up in a demonstration in Karachi and were physically attacked. The nuns were able to get to safety; however their cars were stoned by the demonstrators and wrecked.
According to Archbishop Saldanha the situation is becoming ever more threatening for Christians. "The entire country is now in a crisis."
Marie-Ange Siebrecht, the head of the ACN section that deals with Pakistan, travelled to Pakistan last year and has appealed to the Western world: "We must help these persecuted Christians, who are often an example to us in the Faith", she says. "On my journey I asked one poor Christian how he could endure it all. He told me, 'When I look at Christ on the cross, then my sufferings seem small to me.'
There are around 1.5 million Christians living in Pakistan, and some 1.1 million of them are Catholics. ACN supports Catholics in Pakistan, not only materially, but also through its worldwide appeals for prayer and solidarity with them.