More than 20 Christian churches and over 200 homes belonging to members of the Christian community were vandalized in Pakistan during a recent wave of violence, Joseph Farooq, the sole priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in Pakistan, told Sputnik.
“Twenty-one churches and 200 homes of Christians were vandalized,” Farooq said, adding that several hundred copies of the Bible were also destroyed.
The violence erupted in mid-August in the city of Jaranwala. The priest pointed out that some people falsely accused local Christians of tearing pages from the Quran and writing derogatory words about the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad.
“They made such announcements in the mosque, and the mob gathered against Christians, they destroyed their houses, churches, and copies of the Holy Bible,” the priest said.
The ROCOR mission in Pakistan is located 16 kilometers away from Jaranwala and was not directly affected by the violence. However, many parishioners have relatives and friends from other Christian denominations whose homes were demolished and sheltered them.
“People told me that they [the mob] stole valuable things from their houses. They damaged properties, all property, everything was damaged, everything. People are crying, people are weeping,” Father Joseph, who visited the victims just after the tragedy, said.
Farooq noted that it is a big blow to the Christian community because most of them are poor and have to work for their Muslim landlords. “Their bread is very hard, they are working very hard for their daily bread,” he said.
The priest emphasized that the initial investigation revealed that the violence was well coordinated. Extremists started by making announcements in mosques, gathering a crowd and inciting the mob to violence against the Christians, he explained.
However, there was a reason for hope even amid the nightmare the community found itself in, as many Muslims moved to protect innocent Christians and provide them with shelter, Farooq said.
“In Pakistan, the majority of Muslims – they are good, they are kind, and they are friendly with Christians. Only a small minority follow radical Islam,” he said.
When asked about the reasons for such violence, the priest mentioned a lack of education and aggressiveness caused by the ongoing economic crisis in Pakistan.
“People are not educated. They listen to their clerics in the mosques. They misuse their minds,” the priest said, adding that it is important to teach children about tolerance, patience, and the true teachings of Islam, which is that all humans are equal and remain people of God regardless of faith.
Father Joseph said that police have already arrested about 100 people responsible for the violence. The Christian community has requested that the Pakistani authorities ensure the protection of religious minorities, he added.
“Those responsible for the violence must be arrested and punished according to the law. Otherwise, these incidents will happen again,” the priest warned.