"Ziarat-e-Mariam' pilgrims under new threats of looting, assault and misconduct with women by Punjab Police
17 Sep 2005
Like United Presbyterian congregation, one village was allotted to Catholic Christian peasants also in district Shekhupura under colony schemes of Punjab provincial government. The Catholic Church of Pakistan funded rehabilitation costs and named it "Mariamabad" after Holy Mary.
The village Mariamabad is in remote rural area and in jurisdiction of newly established District Farooqabad. The trainees of Police constabulary center who are all Muslims created anger, harassment and concerns among Christian pilgrims when they looted, assaulted and misbehaved with women, children and elders.
The Christian pilgrims have been facing many social problems on their way to Mariamabad from beginning of this festival. They were refused to eat and drink by vendors and roadside restaurants owned by Muslims who claim that "Islam terms Christians to be infidel and not permit to eat with infidels in same utensils"
The Catholic Church in Pakistan opened Mariamabad for pilgrims in early 50,s with an announcement that " Holy Mary has been appeared in vision of few children on a sand mound of village" The Rev. Fr. Frank, a missionary from Belgium invited Catholic Christians to offer prayers on that particular spot in month of September.
The sand mound was erected with stone hill and decorated with statue of " Holy Mary". The villagers donated grains to prepare " Langer" a free food distribution among pilgrims during "Holy Mary Festival" being held from September 9 to 11.
Some were of view about this festival and it's happening in month of September due to reasons of Muslims celebration of festivals and feasts on their shrines also in same month. It was believed that many Christians have been visiting Muslim shrines and committing sins according to Christian faith. Therefore, commissioning of festival of Mariamabad also seemed an attempt to prevent Christians to visit Muslim shrines.
In 1980, Mariamabad became famous among Christians through out Pakistan after stories of miracles. Like, women who prayed for sons before statue of Holy Mary gave birth to sons with blessings of Mother Mary. The un-employed wished for job during festival and got Employment. The sick that have lost hope in treatment were healed during festival. Therefore, from September 9 to 11, all ways from major cities and towns of Pakistan seemed only leading to this remote village in Punjab. The Caravan of pilgrims consisted of all sects and walks of life, which increased every year.
The political leaders like J. Salik, Emmanuel Zafar, George Clement and Peter John Sohtra used this festival as their election campaigns. The workers of these leaders used to distribute election manifesto flyers and to set stages for political speeches. It's confirmed and witnessed by some these Christian politicians that they won elections after their campaign started in Mariamabad with blessings of Holy Mary.
The major event of " On foot pilgrimage of thousands from Lahore city to Mariamabad' is very amazing to touch hearts of every inhabitant stretched in miles of this passage.
But now, there are grave threats to pilgrims from Punjab police. In 2005, festival of Mariamabad, the "Caravan of on Foot Pilgrims' was attacked by Punjab Constabulary center trainees of Farooqabad who looted, assaulted and misbehaved with pilgrims.
This incident of police attacks can encourage other Muslims to attack the Christian pilgrims in future on way to Mariamabad, which may be very dangerous for Christian Muslim relations in Punjab. Therefore, we hope Government of Punjab shall take immediate action to punish those involved in this incident to prevent future incidents. We also press upon government of Pakistan to legislate laws against touchability that Christian may eat meals and drink water in same crockery in every restaurant opened for general public in Pakistan.
By Nazir Bhatti