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Christians up in arms over land seizure

Group threatens to march on minister's house

Christians up in arms over land seizure
The site of the Gosha e Aman missionary institute, bulldozed last year by provincial authorities reporter, Lahore

March 13, 2013

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Catholic leaders on Tuesday warned the provincial government that they would organize a “long march” in protest over its failure to resolve a long-standing dispute over a parcel of Church property in Lahore.

The Lahore Development Authority last year bulldozed more than 8,000 sq ms of land that housed the Gosh e Aman missionary institute and other social welfare buildings operated by the Catholic Church.

The provincial chief minister dismissed Catholic claims to the land and described the demolition as a legitimate operation to reclaim land from criminal squatters. As an alternative, It offered a smaller parcel of land.

Church officials negotiated with the chief minister until December last year for return of the land, which is worth billions of rupees, and a corner of which has subsequently been occupied by a neighboring Islamic seminary. But no agreement has yet been reached.

Protesters, led by Bishop Sebastian Shah and officials and priests from the Church of Pakistan, gathered on Tuesday in Lahore to demand justice for their claims. 

“How long will the tyranny against Christians continue,” read a large banner carried by Bishop Shah.

Father Andrew Nisari said more aggressive action would follow if their appeals were ignored. 

“We want to rebuild the religious sites and therefore give an ultimatum of two days, or else we shall take a long march and surround the house of the chief minister, who is utterly insincere,” he said. 

The threat comes in the wake of last week’s mob attack on a Christian slum, which was spurred by allegations of blasphemy and resulted in the burning of hundreds of homes. 

The National Commission for Justice and Peace in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan blamed local administrators for allowing tensions to boil over into violence at the slum, called Joseph Colony. 

“The provincial government is responsible for the current monument of shame because it ignored the plight of minorities in the wake of growing religious intolerance fueled by extremist groups,” said Irfan Barkat of Lahore archdiocese in charge of housing development plans in a press statement. 

“The political leadership did not find the courage to address the sufferings of religious minorities, especially those related to the abuse of blasphemy laws.”

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