AFRICA/EGYPT - Bishop of Luxor:
Luxor (Agenzia Fides) – "What occurred was an incident between two young people that was overplayed to make Christians look bad,” Fides was told by Bishop Joannes Zakaria, Bishop of the Catholic Copts of Luxor, Egypt, whose diocese includes the village of al-Nawahid in Qena (southern Egypt), where Muslim extremists burned homes and businesses of Christian Copts after rumors spread of a romance between a Christian boy and a Muslim girl. "Fortunately, in this case, the police intervened swiftly and immediately imposed a curfew, preventing incidents that would have caused more serious damage," said Bishop Zakaria.
"It was a situation between to young people that turned into a pretext to attack Christians. We have reason to believe, instead, that there is a plan to force Christians to convert, especially girls, who are the most vulnerable," continues Bishop Zakaria. "We are aware of several incidents of young Muslims who spot Christian girls and try to make them convert to Islam by force," says the Bishop of Luxor. "Similar incidents have occurred from Alexandria to Aswan."
"As Christians of Egypt, we feel very close to our brothers in faith persecuted in Iraq. Sunday, November 14, I celebrated a Mass here in Luxor for the souls of the people who died October 31 in the attack on the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad. The Mass was attended by many of the faithful,” said Bishop Zakaria.
"It is the cross we bear with serenity, even with pain in our heart, because it allows us to share in the sufferings of Christ the Redeemer," says the Bishop of Luxor. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 17/11/2010)
ASIA/PAKISTAN - Christian lawyers note “growing discrimination and persecutions”
London (Agenzia Fides) – "There is a growing discrimination and persecution against Christians. It 's time the government took the issue of respect for human rights seriously. The UN and EU are placing pressure.” This is what Fides learned in an interview with Nasir Saeed, a Pakistani Christian and coordinator of the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS), a service that provides free legal advice and practical support to persecuted Christians in Pakistan. The Center has its headquarters in London and another base in Pakistan, where many lawyers work to defend Christians accused of blasphemy or in need of legal assistance.What is the current situation of Christians in Pakistan?
The suffering continues. Recently, there has been a troubling escalation of discrimination and persecution against Christians in the country, especially against Christian women and girls. Abductions, rapes, forced marriages, forced conversions to Islam, accusations of blasphemy are all part of our daily agenda. This prolonged suffering is spreading a sense of injustice and neglect, especially among the youth and the poor. We to raise our voices to offer them a better position in seeking justice. Could you give some examples and provide details?
The cases are many. We know that three members of one Christian family were forced to leave their home because of false accusations of blasphemy, without any evidence, and in many towns and villages, Christians are living on high alert for fear of mob violence. Many incidents of violence are not even brought to light, due to pressures from influential Muslims or because the injured parties - often poor people living in remote areas - do not have money to take legal action or do not know how to react to abuse. So, it is difficult to estimate the exact number of cases of persecution and violence. But it is much higher than you think, because most cases do not end up in the mass media are not recorded in official reports or complaints. How do you view the case of Asia Bibi?
Asia Bibi was the first woman to be sentenced to death, but other people have suffered the same fate before her. And many others are suffering in prison. We are alarmed by how the blasphemy law is affecting Christians and especially women. We are doing everything possible to raise awareness in the United Nations and European Union, so that they can place serious pressure on the government. It's time that the government of Pakistan took the issue of human rights and minority rights seriously. Why do women suffer more?
Women, like Asia Bibi, are paying a heavy price for being a Christian in Islamic society: the proliferation of attacks and accusations has reached an unprecedented level. Christian women are looked down upon and considered inferior. They are treated by Muslim men as objects, as 'mal-e-ganimat', a war prize. How do you assess the action of the government and institutions?
While religious intolerance is at a very high level, the government of Pakistan, politicians, and Muslim religious leaders do not take it seriously. Police rarely make serious investigations until an NGO, a church, or some influential person comes in to resolve a case. This apathetic attitude is very serious. What would you ask of the state?
We want our brothers and sisters in Pakistan to be treated equally, to enjoy the same rights of all citizens, as Ali Jinnah, the Father of the Homeland and drafter of the Constitution, wrote and said. We try to help them with legal assistance, and sometimes it is not easy because of their reticence. The messages of hope, encouragement, sympathy, and prayers from faithful around the world are very important. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/11/2010)
ASIA/PAKISTAN - Bishops: “We thank the Pope for his attention towards the sufferings of Christians”
Multan (Agenzia Fides) - “We are very grateful to the Holy Father for his words in support of Asia Bibi, for his attention towards the sufferings of Christians in Pakistan and our rights. On behalf of the bishops, and the entire community of believers in Christ, we express our sincere thanks for his great courage, for the protection of the voiceless, those who are innocent victims of violence and abuse." These are the recent words spoken, in an interview with Fides, by Bishop Andrew Francis, Bishop of Multan, in Punjab, following the appeal made by Benedict XVI at the end of his General Audience today, in favor of Asia Bibi, a woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.
The Pontiff said: "I express my closeness to Asia Bibi and her family and ask that her freedom be restored as soon as possible," affirming that "the international community is following with great concern the plight of Christians in Pakistan, who are often victims of violence or discrimination.” "I pray - he concluded - for those who are in similar situations, that their human dignity and their fundamental rights are fully respected."
In recent days, Bishop Bernard Shaw, Auxiliary Bishop of Lahore, sent an urgent appeal to the Holy Father to intercede for the fate of the woman (see Fides 12/11/2010).
Bishop Francis has told Fides that there will be "a prayer campaign held in all churches, for the life of Asia Bibi. The faithful will gather in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and pray for her release, entrusting her suffering to the Lord."
"Asia Bibi's case is very sad. We are really outraged and shocked by the continuous abuse of the law on blasphemy. Asia is the mother of four children, one of whom is disabled. It is a great injustice and suffering to inflict on this family," he said.
The bishop recalls having translated the document "Dominus Iesus" into Urdu and distributing it to many Muslims. "In that text, the then Cardinal Ratzinger, reaffirming the importance of freedom of conscience and faith, encouraged us to promote it in Pakistani society. In this our commitment, the words of the Pope and his fatherly protection encourage and support us.” (PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/11/2010)