.- A Friday outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Pakistan, which included the burning of a church, was reportedly sparked by a Muslim woman who was furious that her daughter had become romantically linked with a Christian man. The mother allegedly tore pages from a Koran and framed the young man for the deed.
Hundreds of Christians in Jethki village in the Sialkot district of Punjab Province fled for their lives as extremists went on rampage.
The extremists were armed with bricks, stones and sticks. They sprinkled kerosene on the church before setting it on fire and desecrating it, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports.
The mob set fire to two Christian homes next to the church and threatened to kill the village’s inhabitants.
Church leaders claim the violence was sparked by a Muslim mother who was determined to break off the three-year-old relationship between her 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old Christian man. Clergy allege that she ripped a page containing verses of the Koran out of a book and was seen throwing it in front of the man’s house.
She then allegedly ran to the local Muslim authorities and accused the man of desecrating the Koran, in violation of Pakistan’s strict Blasphemy Laws.
The laws carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
According to ACN, Muslim authorities apparently orchestrated the violence as an act of revenge. The man accused of desecrating the Koran is now detained in prison while police investigate. He was not named for security reasons.
Father Andrew Nisari, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Lahore in which Sialkot is located, told ACN that people are “very frightened and upset” by the attack.
“Although the church is still standing, it is completely burnt inside – the altar, the statues, the pews, the priest’s chair, Bibles and other religious books. The whole church is now totally unusable,” Fr. Nisari reported.
All the priests of the village told the Christians to run from the village or they would be killed, he reported. The displaced Christians have taken refuge with friends and relatives in nearby towns.
“We are actually glad that the 19-year-old boy is in jail at the moment – at least there he will be safe. It means he won’t be killed by the fanatic Muslims,” Fr. Nisari added.
The priest characterized the Blasphemy Laws as an “invisible sword” used to take revenge.
“This case shows that religion is being misused in our country and that it is very necessary that the Blasphemy Laws be repealed.”
The anti-Christian incident is the fourth within three months. Last month, nine Christians were killed in anti-Christian attacks in Gojra city in Punjab province.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday condemned the attacks and pledged government funds to repair the church. Shahbaz Mhatti, the Pakistan minorities’ minister and the only Christian in the federal cabinet, will visit the region and submit a report to the government.
The Friday violence has prompted more calls from Christian leaders and others in Pakistan for the repeal of the Blasphemy Laws. ACN has also endorsed the laws’ repeal.
“I urge all the Christians in the world to pray for us who are persecuted in Pakistan. We need your prayers right now,” Fr. Nisari appealed.