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Asian Catholic Directory

Pakistan’s oldest church stands strong despite persecution

Archdiocese of Lahore Pakistan’s oldest church stands strong despite persecution

St. Joseph’s Church in Lahore is the oldest Catholic Church in Pakistan that has flourished since the 19th century despite deadly sectarian violence in recent years.

The church at Sarfaraz Rafiqui Road in Lahore was established as a wooden structure during the British colonial era, on Oct. 31, 1842, to provide pastoral care to the British soldiers. It completed 180 years this year.

St. Joseph’s Church is the largest Catholic parish in the country with an estimated 25,000 Catholics.

Catholics participate in the traditional Palm Sunday procession at St. Joseph's Church, Lahore (Photo: Facebook)

The present brick-made church with its simple façade gives it a distinct identity among the churches in the region. The notable feature of the façade is the main entrance which consists of a gothic arch with receding concentric layers towards the intrados (inner section). Right above the main entrance, a simple cross is embedded in the structure with painted bricks laid in symmetrical patterns.

The church has additional facilities of religious education rooms, spaces for celebrations, and accommodations for the staff.

This historic church came to the national and global spotlight due to two deadly terrorist attacks in 2015. On March 15, two suicide bombers from an extremist outfit blew themselves up in two churches including one at St. Joseph’s Church, leaving 15 people killed and several injured.

Altar of St. Joseph's Church, Lahore. (Photo: Facebook)

Thus St. Joseph’s Church was in the national and international media focus twice in its long history of around two centuries owing to terrorist incidents.

The violent attacks prompted local Christians and Muslims to form a Peace Committee to promote peace and harmony and celebrate religious festivals through fraternal cooperation. The committee also helps unemployed Christians to find jobs and arranges medical camps and social awareness programs for people from all levels of society.

Following the attack, the government formed an independent Minorities Commission with judicial powers thanks to pressure from the church, especially from former Lahore Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha. The commission became the National Commission for Minorities in 2020.

Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw during an event at St. Joseph's Church, Lahore. (Photo: Facebook)

St. Joseph’s Church is also hailed for offering quality education in the region. St. Joseph’s High School educates more than 3,000 children annually and helps in reducing school dropouts.

Bishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad- Rawalpindi is a former student of St. Joseph’s School. Bishop Arshad said that he dreams that the legacy of St. Joseph’s Church will inspire the church and the state of Pakistan to ensure peace, harmony, and hope for all.

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