Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Shah of Lahore has laid the first brick, to start work on a new church for a small Punjab community and hopefully lay to rest land disputes that have delayed its construction for 33 years. Villagers threw rose petals and money in the air to the sound of drums as the prelate later entered a nearby tent for a thanksgiving Mass for what will be St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Ajianwala, in the eastern Pakistan province. When completed, the church will serve the Nazareth colony, comprising around 100 Catholic families living in small mud houses. Not all Catholics are happy with the development, several church workers say. “Some wanted to claim the land for themselves and built a wall around the site. We have established the will of the Church today,” said Pervaiz Daniel, from the Catholic Church’s Estate Management Commission. “At least three retired Catechists had registered plots making up the site in their names. We filed court cases and only one of them has yet to return our property,” he added. Bishop Shah agreed the consecration “answered several questions” regarding land ownership. “The original Church blueprints were lost decades ago and some locals urged us to relocate the building to another part of the town,” he said. However, Father Satani Salaas, the Belgian priest who founded Nazareth Colony back in 1978 wanted the church built in this location, Bishop Shah claimed. A new church has become crucial to local Catholics. “Muslim landlords are trying to vacate mud houses and a small Catholic Church, 10 kilometers from the Catholic colony. They have built barricades around the church and play music on their tractors during Mass. The courts do nothing because “court justice is blind to poor peasants like us,” said Majid Masih, a local farmer. PA13856.1648
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