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Fear has silenced Christians says Pakistani archbishop

TORONTO (CNS): Fear has silenced the voice of Pakistan’s Christians since the political murder of Shahbaz Bhatti last spring, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, the former archbishop of Lahore, told The Catholic Register in mid-November, as he moved into Toronto, Canada, for his retirement. 

“People are sad; bitter. They say: ‘If that happens to him what happens to us?’” he explained to the Canadian Catholic weekly newspaper. 

Archbishop Saldanha explained that Bhatti’s killers remain at large and the convicted murderer of Salman Taseer, the former governor of the Punjab, was greeted in court with rose petals and garlands.

In an atmosphere of impunity for anyone who kills a Christian, educated Pakistani Christians are getting out of the country. Those who remain are keeping their heads down and their mouths shut. 

The archbishop said, “In such a situation, minorities don’t have much place. There’s no tolerance for other religions. Either you convert or you leave. This is the choice.” 

The former archbishop of Lahore is joining his extended family in Toronto’s east end and hopes to involve himself in local parish ministry. 

He said that in the more than 50 years since his priestly ordination, he has seen his country slide from corrupt oligarchy, to military rule, to mob rule. 

“Everything is a big mess there— economically, socially, religiously,” he said. 

Bhatti was Pakistan’s minister responsible for minorities. He was killed on March 2. Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard on January 4. Both men spoke out publicly against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. 

He explained that waves of suicide bombings, targeted killings and death threats against Christians have human rights campaigners and staff of the Pakistan Justice and Peace Commission keeping their statements low-key and their names out of the papers.

Even educated Muslims in Pakistan’s big cities have turned against the country’s religious minorities. 

“The mentality is changing, especially among the middle class and lower-middle class,” Archbishop Saldanha, who headed the Justice and Peace Commission for the past 10 years, explained. “They are being Talibanised.”......

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