UK: May 6. (PCP Report) The CLAAS organized a prayer day to mark the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop John Joseph, Roman Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, Pakistan waged a struggle against fundamentalism, religious intolerance and discriminatory laws, particularly to repeal the draconian Blasphemy Law 295-C, which has a mandatory death penalty. In order to give an impetus to the struggle and focus world attention on this crucial issue, he sacrificed his life for the just cause on May 6, 1998. He was born on 15th November 1932 in village Khushpur and was the first Punjabi Roman Catholic Bishop. Additionally, the event also had an underlying purpose of reviving the spirit of unity and struggle to continue coordinating support for the rights of the persecuted Christians in Pakistan. As a tribute, candles were lit for the Martyr Bishop and all those who gave their lives because of their faith.
The event was conducted by CLAAS Trustee Rev. Wilson Gill while the opening prayer was led by the Minister at St. Anslem Church, Rev. Fr. Jim Crampsey. A couple of congregational songs were sung during which, Mr. M.R. Chaudhary read scripture from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, versus 10-16.
Members of the Christian community from all walks of life came forward to express their view on the great leadership of Bishop John Joseph and contributed to the motivation for Pakistani Christians to join hands together for a lasting change in the discrimination and persecuted by their fellow brothers and sisters in Pakistan.
The first speech was made by Mr. Ehsan Sharif who paid a tribute to the Late Bishop by saying that the loss of such a leader could not be recovered in the coming decades but the important issue is to carry on with the mission that he lived to accomplish till his last breath.
He said that given the growing situation against the vulnerable minorities in Pakistan, the presence of laws such as Blasphemy Law is making it almost impossible to ensure the protection of Christians, their worship places and institutes. It therefore is very vital for the Western world to understand the crucial aspects which greatly relies on the Pakistani Christians residing in these countries for they are to feel the problems and unite to form practical solutions.
Mr. Charan Joseph said that the important part-taking of Christians in the history of Pakistan and all fields of life including education, medical services, sports, state welfare and democratic renewal cannot be brushed off, if not acknowledged. This has resulted in segregation and deformation of the image of Christians as an active community in Pakistan. He supported the fact that the present circumstances highly demand from Christians to encourage their members in every field and the fundamental outcome would be the positive attitude and spirit of participation amongst our future generations, but there has to be a new beginning right from this time. Speaking of the Blasphemy Law, he said that the afore-mentioned law had done nothing but serving as a hard-to-bridge gap between the Muslim and Christian community in Pakistan which is evident from the incidents such as destruction of Christian village Shanti Nagar and the Christian colony in Sangla Hill, merely because of the suspicion that the Holy Quran had been desecrated by a certain Christian. It is time to stand up and let the surrounding communities understand that without their personal and governmental influence, the tides of hatred will continue to rise and lead to frequent tragedies.
The next speaker, Dr. Peter J Javed appreciated CLAAS for their continuous struggle to address the issues of Christians that were unknown to the international communities. He said that CLAAS always steps forward to inspire Christians and organising the anniversary of Martyr Bishop John Joseph speaks of the commitment CLAAS has made to bring the lives of suffering Christians to ease.
He said that the physical departure of the Martyr Bishop was not simply a tragic death but the loss of a vision, the silencing of a loud voice that was well-heard amongst the flames of hatred, injustice and religious discrimination, but even today, his voice echoes with an appeal to the Christians not to give up and become as united as ever to gain religious freedom in favour of the helpless ones in Pakistan.
Reflections were also made by the Honourable guests as under:
Mr. Patrick Sookhdeo (International Director Barnabas Fund) said that no situation is more agonising than to lose the freedom of speech and expression and it is a great controversy that leaders like Bishop John Joseph and innocent Christians had to give up their lives, not because they were a threat to the state, but because their belief in Christ was their foremost flaw to question their presence in the society, while others like Mr. Daniel Scott are still on the run for raising their voice for truth.
Mr. Sookhdeo expressed concern over the Shariah Laws including Hudood Ordinance, Law of Witness and most importantly the Blasphemy Law that had automatically made Christians second-class citizens of Pakistan. He said that the wide and daring misuse of Shariah Laws is a severe flaw in the democratic set-up of Pakistan and unless they are appropriately amended, rectified and put into practice, the lives of Christians will continue to be patched with misery, violence, discrimination and sense of segregation.
Of the distinguished guests, Mr. Charles Tannock MEP was presented with a trophy by CLAAS Coordinator (Mr. Nasir Saeed) for his continuous support in raising voice in the British and European Parliament on behalf of CLAAS and the Pakistani Christians. Mr. Tannock said that the Shariah Laws are the focal point of concern for the European Parliament as Christian minorities throughout the Muslim countries are experiencing great difficulties. He thanked CLAAS for all its support and struggle and said that it was always a privilege for him to raise voice on behalf of the voiceless Christians in Pakistan and he will continue doing so.
The last speaker was the Honourable Mayor of London Borough of Ealing, Councillor Michael Eillott. The Honourable Mayor said that London is particularly the most multi-cultural city of the world and being a Mayor of one of its richly multi-ethnic borough, it is a great privilege for him to learn about the tensions arising between the Muslim and other minority communities in Pakistan. Since Britain has always promoted the human rights of the vulnerable people and with his aim to celebrate and strengthen the positive aspects of diversity in Ealing Borough, it has invited his attention to bring the two communities together to understand and initiate a dialogue for favourable outcomes for the Christian community in Pakistan. The Mayor assured of his full support and expressed that he would be very happy to remain involved with the cause CLAAS and other change makers are trying to work on.
In the end, a candle was lit in memory of all those who lost their lives because of their faith individually or during a collective violence targeted at Christians in Pakistan.
Mr. Patrick Sookhdeo lit a candle in memory of Bishop John Joseph while other participants lit candles for the following individuals and places of tragedy.
Niamat Ahmer/ Manzoor Masih/ Samuel Masih/ Javed Anjum/ Nasir Masih/ Azeem Jalal/ Javed Masih/ Pastor Babar Shamaun/ Daniel/ Ashiq Masih/ Ashiq Nabi/ People who died in attack in Bahawalpur/ Idara-e-Aman-o-Insaaf Karachi/ Murree Christian School/ Taxila Christian Hospital/ International Church Islamabad/ Lahore Pentecostal Church/ Unknown Brothers, Sisters and Children throughout the world.
Word of thanks was conveyed by Chairman CLAAS, Rev. Alwin Samuel while the closing prayer was led by Pastor Johnson