Just shortly after attacks by Muslim extremists in the province of Punjab, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met today with Pope Benedict XVI at the papal residence in Castel Gandalfo. The two leaders discussed the situation and ways to “overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation.”
President Zardari discussed the current state of affairs in Pakistan, giving particular attention to “the fight against terrorism and the commitment to create a society more tolerant and harmonious in all its aspects,” a statement from the Holy See press office said.
“Talk then turned to the positive role played by the Catholic Church in the social life of the country through her educational, healthcare and aid activities,” the statement added.
Muslim extremists have attacked Christians numerous times over the past few months. In early August, an enraged throng of Muslims attacked a Christian neighborhood in the city of Gojra, after hearing that someone allegedly desecrated the Koran. The attack involved six Christians being burned to death, the burning of 40 Christian homes and two churches.
On September 16, the mother of a 18-year-old Muslim girl framed her daughter's Christian boyfriend with desecrating the Koran, according to local priests. Upon learning of the supposed desecration, a mob of extremist Muslims burned two homes in the village of Jethki, threatened its inhabitants with death and set fire to the local Catholic church.
Local Catholic leaders have called for the repeal of the nation's Blasphemy Laws, which they say allow the militants to escape prosecution for their attacks.
At today's meeting with President Zardari, the two heads of state discussed the recent episodes of violence and “the elements that have favored such serious incidents,” giving emphasis to the “need to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation, with the aim of promoting respect for the rights of all citizens," the Vatican said.