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Economic, physical threats dampen Christmas mood in Pakistan

If low income is troubling some, others are also fearing for their safety
 A prayer session in progress at a newly reconstructed church as a policeman looks on in Jaranwala on Oct. 12.

A prayer session in progress at a newly reconstructed church as a policeman looks on in Jaranwala on Oct. 12. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 19, 2023 11:28 AM GMT
Updated: December 19, 2023 11:30 AM GMT

Having a low income is forcing Adeel Masih to seek a loan so his three children can celebrate Christmas, while Humera Zafar is having second thoughts about festivities because of the trickle-down effect of the infamous Jaranwala attack on Christians in Pakistan.

“Everything is expensive while my income is low,” the Catholic man told UCA News.

Masih lives in Warispura, a Christian-majority neighborhood in Faisalabad in central eastern Punjab, the largest province by population in the South Asian nation.

Home to over 100,000 Christians, the majority of people in Warispura do menial work.

Empty-handed almost daily

Most days, Masih comes home from work empty-handed because his employer, the state-run Faisalabad Solid Waste Management Company, has made it a point to pay the salary of its staffers every three months. This is the fourth year, Masih has worked for the company, established in 2013.

Despite having a matriculation certificate, he ended up as a sanitary worker for a monthly salary of Rs.22,000 (US$78).

With Christmas around the corner, the future is uncertain for Masih as shopkeepers are reluctant to give credit for their wares.

Sitting in his one-room house with his wife, Masih at times feels sorry for his three children, who are all aged under five. 

He has made up his mind to get a loan to buy new clothes and Christmas gifts for them.

“I understand things, but children like to celebrate Christmas as other children do.”

In this distressing time, his faith in Christ is his only hope.

“We go to church on Sundays and feel happy when the local catechist visits us.”

Masih is not alone — there are almost 3,000 mostly Christian workers facing the same trouble.

However, there are other Catholics who will face other pressures this Christmas such as being worried for their safety and job security.  

This sense of foreboding has been heightened by what happened 35 kilometers away in Jaranwala where three Christian settlements were attacked by a Muslim mob over the alleged desecration of a Quran on Aug. 16.

In one of the worst-ever acts of persecution against Christians in the Muslim-majority nation, 30 churches, including seven Salvation Army churches, three Catholic churches, and three Presbyterian churches, were badly damaged. Many Christian graves and homes were also desecrated and attacked. 

Police rounded up 207 suspects for vandalizing churches and torching Christian homes.

The threat of yet another Jaranwala

Thirty-five-year-old Zafar lives in Warispura. The unmarried woman spends time with her ailing mother when she is not doing her polio vaccination job with the Punjab health department.

Like Masih, Zafar is also going through difficult times. Despite spending over 15 years with the government entity, she is yet to be made a staffer.

She has to make ends meet with a monthly stipend of Rs.17,000 and lives in a small house with few facilities.

The government is not interested in the affairs of poor Christians, according to Ashiknaz Khokhar, a Catholic social worker from Sahiwal, a city near Faisalabad.

“There are some government departments who have paid Christians’ salaries in advance, but many Christians are still waiting.”

Zafar’s non-permanent status puts her at the mercy of superiors as to whether she gets her salary on time.

To its credit, nearly 70 percent of the health department's polio workers are Christians.

However, the senior hierarchy is mainly from the Muslim community who are now trying to show Christians the door and handpicking Muslims in their place.

Zafar has been told by her boss that her contract will be terminated in January.

We cannot protest as “the supervisor threatened us” with yet another Jaranwala-type incident, she told UCA News.

“I am not the only one. There are many other women and their families face the same trouble. Everything is expensive and inflation is on the rise.

“It is difficult to celebrate Christmas with enthusiasm. However, we pray to God.”  

“The Jaranwala incident has its trickledown effect, which has created fear and intimidation among Christians,” UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide said in a Dec. 11 statement.

“They might celebrate Christmas under pressure as they feel that their practice of religion might hurt the ‘sentiments’ of others.”

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