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Persecuted Christians and pastoral care in Pakistan

As those accused of blasphemy look for God and pray for miracles, pastoral support is as vital as legal aid

Persecuted Christians and pastoral care in Pakistan

Demonstrators burn effigies of Asia Bibi (left), a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row on blasphemy charges, and French President Emmanuel Macron during an anti-France protest over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Lahore on Nov. 8, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Religious fanaticism is on the rise in Pakistan. Minor Christian girls have been targeted and forcibly converted to Islam before being married to a Muslim adult. Christian nurses have also been targeted with physical and emotional abuse in the Muslim-majority country.

All these incidents affect the emotional, spiritual and physical well-being of a person. It leaves a person in shock and with lots of questions: Why me? What did I do? What’s my fault? Why am I being targeted? Why am I here? Why did God let this happen to me?

It not only affects one person but the whole family and the Christian community at large. They all go through trauma and suffer from emotional shock and stress.

Cases involving blasphemy are unpredictable and uncertain. They create hopelessness for the victim, family and community. Along with legal aid, good pastoral care can help victims and families to cope in an uncertain situation.

When any Christian person or family is accused of committing blasphemy against the religion of Islam, the shock affects them emotionally and socially. Due to religious pressure, there is no immediate solution.

A false accusation frightens the victim. They feel so lonely that they totally rely on God’s help. The people trying to support them are also not sure about the solution. The victims experience very strongly a loss of human dignity and human identity. Uncertainty is dangerous — it increases fear in the victim and affects his/her whole personality.

Pakistani society rejects victims of false blasphemy allegations, making them feel inferior and that their existence is meaningless

When human beings suffer and are frightened, their spiritual needs are very high. After an accusation, victims and their whole family experience isolation, which means they have to hide, leave jobs and experience financial problems. They are socially cut off and outlawed.

Pakistani society rejects victims of false blasphemy allegations, making them feel inferior and that their existence is meaningless. But their faith in Jesus makes them strong and enables them to move on.

This whole situation creates uncertainty and when people are uncertain, they lose hope. If the law can’t give hope, their faith in Jesus can bring them hope in uncertain situations.

Persecution is not new to Christians in Pakistan. Legal aid is very important. Most people don’t understand the importance of pastoral care, so it is not offered as it should be offered. Emotional issues of anger and disappointment and spiritual issues must be handled by a pastoral expert.

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Generally, if a pastor is allowed to visit a person accused of blasphemy in prison, then he may or may not be allowed to pray for the victims. Prayer is a very important part of ministry to victims of blasphemy allegations, but prayer must not be understood in a limited sense.

Those providing pastoral care should keep families informed to help them cope with the situation. Be truthful and real. Don’t make false promises. Don’t give false hope. More information means more courage, less information means less hope.

Listen compassionately. Pay attention to the feelings and the words of the victims. Validate their pain and suffering, showing them that you can feel their pain and understand their suffering.

Your body language must witness that you are present emotionally, spiritually and physically. Please don’t let them feel that you are rushing; they can see and feel everything from your body language. Let them feel and see the truth in your eyes and body language. Be present fully.

A full-time pastor should look after the pastoral needs of victims. He must pray and give ample time for prayer support. If possible, pray from the heart without written prayers. After prayer, stay with the victims for some time and let them feel you care.

Only truth can help you to build a true pastoral relationship

Ask the victim what he/she would like the pastor to pray for? Their real needs will come out and then you can pray knowing their needs. Offer them the Bible and encourage them to read Matthew 5 and 6 for encouragement. If the victim is a Catholic, present them with the rosary. It will help them to cope with their suffering.

If jailed victims are Catholic, a priest must get permission from prison authorities to celebrate Mass each month. A priest, deacon or Eucharistic minister must make sure that communion is administered to victims.

Build a pastoral relationship. Let victims understand and trust you. Only truth can help you to build a true pastoral relationship. Be truthful in all matters. When you promise them something, fulfill your promise.

Understand their stress level. Be aware how the victim and family are coping emotionally. Too much stress can cause people to harm themselves. Be extra kind so that people can open their hearts to you.

Set your short- and long-term goals. Your short-term goal is to take care of victims and their families’ spiritual, emotional and physical needs. The long-term goal is to have them out of prison and take them to a safer place.

Try to stand in the shoes of a victim. Feel their pain. Give individual attention to each family member as they could be at different stages of emotional stress and grief.

Church leadership must appoint full-time, well-trained pastors for the pastoral care of the victims of blasphemy accusations

Be available. Keep regular contact via phone or a one-to-one visit. When they need you, make yourself available. Prioritize and let them feel they are important. Let the victims feel that you love them. Remain consistent to build a relationship of trust.

Church leadership must appoint full-time, well-trained pastors for the pastoral care of the victims of blasphemy accusations. It is a special calling and pastors must be appointed for this apostolate. Every church should have a group that prays for victims and studies blasphemy cases. Engage laypeople, train them and use their gifts.

Create a care plan that includes the victim’s spiritual problems or needs. Inform families and pastoral care groups about your interventions. Let the pastoral team and families know the outcome of your interventions.

Spirituality plays a vital role during suffering, so it is vital to give equal importance to the spiritual needs of victims. Spirituality gives the victim a boost to cope with the situation. Pastors or priests can play a vital role in providing good pastoral support for those accused of blasphemy and help them during their difficult journey.

Naeem Harry is a hospice chaplain in New Jersey in the United States. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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