Just four days after a mob of Islamist extremists burned down a Christian community in the Pakistani city of Jaranwala, over 700 Catholics gathered to celebrate Mass outside the decimated St. Paul Catholic Church on Aug. 20.
Despite the incredible devastation and widespread fears that another anti-Christian riot would break out, hundreds of Catholics turned to the Eucharist following a mob attack that destroyed more than 30 churches and 800 homes.
“Most of the people were crying in the Mass,” one Christian community leader told the Catholic relief group Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN).
“It was a very painful time but a chance to share with one another their sense of loss and sadness,” said the Christian, who was not identified by ACN out of safety concerns.
On Aug. 16, a riot of hundreds of Muslims — reported by some as thousands — broke out in the Christian portion of Jaranwala in Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province.
The anti-Christian mob had broken into a frenzy after two Christians, Rocky Masih and Raja Masih, were accused of profaning the Quran and insulting Islam. Disrespecting the Quran is a crime punishable by life in prison in Pakistan.
Before a formal police investigation could begin, a crowd of Muslims, reportedly spurred on by an extremist group called “Tehreek-e-Labbaik” went on a rampage through the Christian district.
Maria Lozano, head of press for ACN, told CNA that witnesses reported “messages from mosques sent out on loudspeakers were calling on local people to ‘go out and kill’ Christians.”
After receiving a forewarning from some sympathetic Muslims, most of the Christians were able to quickly flee their homes and churches in time to avoid a massacre. Despite the destruction, no Christians have been reported killed, according to Lozano.
One Christian, identified as Ejaz Masih, died of a heart attack during the attack.
Dramatic video and pictures of the attack show Muslim rioters toppling crosses and setting fire to churches and Christian homes. The priest asked for the collaboration of the people to continue with the repair of the church. In particular, he requested the donation of images for the sanctuary: a crucifix, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the church’s patroness, St. Ann, depicted with St. Joachim.
By Peter Pinedo