UCA News

Church fire dampens Easter celebrations in Pakistan

Concern among Christian community as Presbyterian church’s pastor gives conflicting statements after incident
People outside the gutted Presbyterian church of Gujar Khan, Punjab province in Pakistan.

People outside the gutted Presbyterian church of Gujar Khan, Punjab province in Pakistan. (Photo courtesy Jalal TV)

Published: April 01, 2024 11:58 AM GMT
Updated: April 01, 2024 03:42 PM GMT

A mysterious fire that broke out at a Presbyterian church ahead of Easter Sunday in a Pakistani town has shocked the local Christian community, forcing them to hold Easter services in a hotel.

The fire broke out early morning on March 30 at the United Presbyterian Church at Gujar Khan town in Rawalpindi district, 57 kilometers southeast of Islamabad.

Police said the fire was caused by a short circuit and gutted much of the interiors including the furniture. Around 200 church members were compelled to celebrate Easter at a local hotel.

“We are satisfied with the ongoing investigations. We can relocate the church if the government allocates a bigger area to accommodate the worshippers,” said Adeem Alfonce, pastor-in-charge of the church on April 1.

However, the pastor had told UCA News on March 30 that “police are trying to save a businessman who has financial, political and social influence.”

He said businessman Sheikh Ahmed owns an under-construction shopping plaza near the church, which is located on a piece of government land.

Ahmed had objected to the tents and barricades that police erected in the area for security arrangements ahead of Good Friday. 

After the fire, about 500 Christians gathered in front of the church to demand justice. Some of them shouted slogans demanding to probe Ahmed's role in the fire.

Pastor Alfonce though seemed to have changed his stance and discouraged them from blocking the road.

“We cannot afford to agitate and are not suspecting anyone,” he said.

Shahzad Sohatra, president of Christian Awakening Movement Pakistan expressed surprise at the conflicting statements from Pastor Alfonce.

Sohatra said the local Christian community was scared by the fire incident and observed Easter celebrations with a broken heart.

Yousaf Benjamin, executive director of Dignity First, a non-government organization working for persecuted Christians, demanded a judicial probe into the church fire.

“We can feel the fear in the pastor’s latest statement. Christians in Pakistan need protection,” he said.

The Center for Social Justice in its annual fact sheet said 23 churches were attacked in Pakistan in 2023. These include 22 churches destroyed in the riots at the Christian colony in Jaranwala in Punjab province.

Pakistan is designated among the "countries of particular concern" by the US State Department in its annual report on religious freedom, for engaging in and tolerating "particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

The provincial government owns the land of the United Presbyterian Church as the government allotted the land for the use of the local Christian community after Pakistan became an independent country in 1947.

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