Sidra (L) and Esham, the daughters of Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother sentenced to death, listen to Pakistani Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad on November 24, 2010. Bibi was later acquitted and now lives in Canada.(Farooq Naeem/AFP)
Asia Bibi, the Pakistan woman acquitted of blasphemy charges and who now lives in Canada, remains a symbol of hope for persecuted Christians in Pakistan, says a former Pakistani archbishop.They see Bibi’s acquittal in 2018 and her eventual release and arrival in Canada in May 2019 as “a very hopeful sign” that the treatment of Christians under the present government of Prime minister Imran Khan might just change for the better, said former Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore.The archbishop moved to Canada himself after his retirement in 2011 and became a Canadian citizen in 2016.“The Blasphemy Law is like a sword hanging over minorities and even Muslims. The unjust law has been misused a hundred times to bring death and destruction,” he told UCA News.“Asia Bibi is keeping a low profile in Canada. People know she is here and are happy about her safe asylum. “She does not give interviews to the press. She wanted to carry on the fight against the blasphemy laws, but I suppose someone told her it is not safe to go active again,” the archbishop said.He said until “the longstanding grievances” of religious minorities “are seriously addressed, the future of this small Church [in Pakistan] remains dark and problematic.”Christians form roughly four million, or two percent, of some 200 million people, mostly Muslims, in Pakistan.“Certainly the year 2020 will be a great challenge for Pakistan and India as they face growing threats of religious extremism. Their faith has been tested, but they carry on with hope and courage,” the India-born prelate said.Archbishop Saldanha, who was born in Mangalore, in India's Karnataka state, was referring to reports of increasing anti-Christian violence, particularly in northern India, at the hands of Hindu groups.Christian leaders say Hindu groups working to turn India into a Hindu nation have stepped up violence against religious minorities since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.“I also fear that Christians in Pakistan will have to deal with greater pressures and opposition. This calls for greater unity and cooperation among all sectors of the Church,” the prelate said.