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Mass wedding in Pakistan's Jaranwala after riot

11 Christian couples tied the nuptial knot nearly two months after 91 Christian houses were torched and 22 churches looted
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw blesses a couple at a mass wedding ceremony on Oct. 13 in Jaranwala in Pakistan’s Punjab province, nearly two months after an anti-Christian riot destroyed 91 Christian houses.

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw blesses a couple at a mass wedding ceremony on Oct. 13 in Jaranwala in Pakistan’s Punjab province, nearly two months after an anti-Christian riot destroyed 91 Christian houses. (Photo: Catholic TV Pakistan)

Published: October 16, 2023 11:46 AM GMT
Updated: October 16, 2023 11:58 AM GMT

Nearly two months after 91 Christian houses were torched, Jaranwala in Pakistan’s Punjab province has witnessed 11 Christian couples getting married at a mass ceremony.

Catholic bishops blessed couples at the inter-faith ceremony on Oct. 13.  Gifts including furniture and household items were exchanged and jubilant grooms performed Bhangra, a Punjabi cultural dance, accompanied by the beating of the dhol (traditional drum).

Mushtaq Masih, a retired Catholic supervisor at a jute mill, thanked the organizers for financing the marriage of his 28-year-old daughter who was engaged two weeks before Christians in Jaranwala witnessed the attack by a Muslim mob over the alleged desecration of pages from the Quran on Aug.16.

Masih said the rioters entered through the roof and took the "personal belongings and the savings" he had gathered for the marriage.

“My biggest burden was relieved when our parish priest called me on the phone to inform the marriage preparations."

According to the administration in Punjab, at least 22 churches were looted and 91 homes were torched during the violence that lasted a couple of hours after two Christians -- Raja Umar and Rocky Masih -- were accused of committing blasphemy by defaming the Quran. 

Besides destroying the houses and churches, the rioters also desecrated some 20 graves inside a Christian cemetery.

“This was a vital need for the affected families. We have seen many tears here. Now it’s time for happiness and joy,” said Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore during a homily at the wedding, which was attended by Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad in Punjab province.

Mass weddings are common among Pakistan’s poor due to their inability to pay dowry, the money or jewelry grooms demand from the bride's family. 

Father Khalid Mukhtar, parish priest of St. John Church in Jaranwala, celebrated the Mass for two Catholic couples while pastors led the ceremonies for others.

A Lahore-based Muslim charity, Allah Waly Trust, served food for 1,400 guests, while Christian Business Fellowship Pakistan (CBFP) arranged the dowry for 11 Christian brides.

According to the CBFP, the joint venture was aimed at rehabilitating the poor in Jaranwala after the anti-Christian riot.

“We asked our close friends for their contributions" for the mass wedding, said CBFP president Saleem Shakir told UCA News. 

Better coordination among Christians also helped reconstruction and renovation of the damaged houses, Shakir said.

Rana Hassan Afzal, country manager of the Allah Waly Trust, said they joined aiming to discourage religious discrimination in the country.

Promoting interfaith harmony after a violent attack is crucial for healing, he said.

“The policy of religious radicalism has damaged our political and social landscape. A diverse Pakistan with equal rights and opportunities for all citizens is the only solution,” Afzal added.

In the 1980s, military ruler Zia-ul-Haq began the Islamization of the South Asian nation, banning pop music, entertainment and dancing.

Besides piecing together the controversial blasphemy law, the former dictator also Islamized the school curriculum.

His 10-year-old dictatorship opened thousands of religious seminaries across the country and set up institutions headed by Islamic clerics to oversee the affairs of the government.

Christians make up about 1.6 percent of Pakistan's 241 million people.

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