Thousands of Christians of Lahore got out on the streets to lend their support and comfort
for the families of those killed in the bomb blast in front of two churches while the coffins
of the dead were being carried for burial. (Inset) The body of young Zubair Rashid Masih
who was tortured and killed by the police.
At the very outset let me wish all our readers on the occasion of Easter. As we remember the sacrifice made by our Lord Jesus as he surrendered to the cross and subsequently glorify His resurrection, it is certainly a time for us to acknowledge the newness of life and thefulfilment of a promise that God has made to all of us. In the words of Anon, «Christ left the grave one glorious day, and vanquished death and sin; He opened wide the gates of heaven, that we might enter in.»
The Holy Week is indeed the most powerful time for us Christians to experience how the victim of Good Friday became the victor at Easter. It is the opportunity for us to understand how we can similarly become victors despite our failures and our missed chances. These moments will give us the strength to celebrate the fact that we are Christians and that God has embraced us with forgiving love.
In the world of today, where information travels almost instantaneously and where it is easy to gather public opinion about almost any subject through platforms like social media, there is little time for reflection and introspection. Instant responses are required – there are pokes and pings and likes that can show your support for any incident, person or topic. Most of these have almost become automated reactions. Is there any deep thought that goes behind the responses? Do we realize that we are contributing in influencing another person’s mind at the press of a button? Do we realize our responsibility in shaping society’s thought, and if so, do we do it responsibly?
We all need to be connected with God through prayer and meditation in order to fulfill our duties as Christians. We cannot see where and how our actions and words will bear fruit. We can only follow the directions given by God or follow our human instincts. David Roper says, «It is not what we do for the Lord, but what He does through us that enlightens and enriches others.» For Zechariah 4:6 says, «Not by might nor by power, but My Spirit,» says the Lord of hosts.
Easter is symbolic of a beginning. It can be the start of an increased spiritual alignment or the promise of stronger faith, or harmonious living. Whatever it be, I pray that the Lord bless your efforts and pour out His grace for you to bloom and spread His word.
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CHURCH ATTACKED IN JABALPUR
Members of a Hindu religious group vandalised a church in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh where a Bible convention was being held. There were around 200 tribals present at the time of the incident who had come to the church from Mandla District.
According to church authorities, the men had a heated argument after which they created ruckus in the premises and broke flower pots. But the attackers claim there was no vandalism. «We went to the church after we got to know that a religious conversion ceremony was being organised there in the name of a Bible convention. Otherwise, why were so many tribals called there?» said Yogesh, a member of the Hindu Dharma Sena. A police case was registered against unknown people after a complaint by church authorities. The Christians have threatened to close all missionary schools and colleges in Jabalpur for a day if police does not take any action. «If the perpetrators of this crime are not punished, we will close all the Christian schools in the area,» said Denzel Paul, a leader of the Christian community.
«We have registered a case against unknown people after a complaint by the Christian community,» said Isha Pant, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Jabalpur. We hope that peace will prevail in the area and that there are no more incidents that will heighten the underlying tension in the area.
WEST BENGAL: ELDERLY NUN GANG-RAPED
In what can be described as one of the most heinous attacks on a person from a religious order, the 72-year old Superior of the Convent of the Religious of Jesus and Mary was gang-raped by burglars on March 13. The superior is now in stable condition, and is recovering in a hospital in Calcutta.
According to the latest reports, police arrested eight men, now under investigation for sexual assault. Due to the CCTV cameras installed in the convent it has been possible to identify six of the eight suspects. Aranb Gosh, superintendent of the local police, said the robbery was well planned: «The footage shows the six men, aged between 20 and 30, climb the wall around at 23:40, enter the school and cut the phone lines».
«Over the past 19 years – Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CCBI), says, «this convent has been serving the people, and working for nation building and this is an exceedingly grave assault on religious women and is emblematic of gross immorality, deepest depravity.» He added, «The Ranagath attacks were beyond vile – not only did they heinously violate the religious sister, they desecrated the Chapel, the ciborium and the monstrance, this is evil». As chair of CCBI, next March 19 (Feast of St Joseph), the cardinal will celebrate a Mass of reparation for the religious.
The gruesome act has extracted strong voices among the clergy and laymen from all over India. The growing sense of insecurity among the Christian community is evident in the reactions resonating from all over the country. On hearing of the attack, hundreds of students – and their parents and teachers – blocked the roads near the monastery for several hours, demanding police find the culprits. Created in 1818 by St. Claudine Thevenet to educate and serve the poor, the Religious of Jesus and Mary now operate in 28 countries on four continents. In addition to the high school of Ranagath (West Bengal), India’s Congregation directs 13 schools. The College in New Delhi is considered one of the best in India. Apart from praying for the recovery of the Superior, our concern is for rapid action to be taken by government agencies to curtail any more incidents like these. Only stern punishment of the culprits and proper measures of security will be adequate response to this horrifying event.
RUSSIA AS PERSECUTOR
It is now one year since the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and Ukrainian Christians say they are facing persecution by separatists. This report is given by our partner organization in Europe. Evangelical churches have come under severe restrictions in Crimea, and a church leader is warning that Ukrainian churches will also lose their religious freedom if the Russians take control of their country.
‘Paul’, a pastor who’s planted many churches in the former Soviet Union, says separatists have accused evangelical Christians in the Ukraine of spying for the West and have confiscated their church buildings. ‘Paul’ – not his real name, laments, «In the areas that have been occupied some Christians have been killed. They have been accused of being American spies.» He warns the situation can only get worse if the separatists gain more ground, judging by the experience of Evangelical Christians in the Crimea. ‘After annexation, Ukrainian churches were told they had no right to exist there,’ said Paul. ‘Every church has had to be re-registered. Some pastors and priests have been forced to accept Russian citizenship.’ Those who refused, he said, were forced to leave.
�There has been a steady decline in religious freedom across the former Soviet Union in recent years. Separatists have killed Christians in the Ukraine, and the picture in the Crimea under Russian annexation paints a disturbing picture of the future for Christians in Russian-controlled territories.
�The idea that Christians who do not belong to the traditional Orthodox Church have embraced some form of pro-Western religion and could even be American spies is a rumor being spread by Russians for their own gains. Other communist or post-communist countries make the same claim. Russia must respect freedom of religion for all faiths and restrain separatist groups from attacking churches and Christians in the Ukraine.
We seek prayer support from our readers for persecution of the church in separatist controlled areas of Ukraine to decrease and for removal of restrictions on the church in annexed Crimea. In the present crisis Ukrainians of all denominations are praying together to God in the streets and squares, and we hope that religious freedom will be soon allowed across the former Soviet Union.
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PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS UNDER THE
FIRE OF PERSECUTION
Two suicide bombings at two churches in the Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 13 people, including two policemen, and wounded more than 65 people on Sunday, March 15. The back-to-back blasts shook the majority Christian neighborhood of Youhanabad as churches in the area held prayer services. Police said suicide bombers detonated explosive vests next to Christ Church and St. John’s Church after security prevented them from entering the compounds, which are a few hundred meters apart. Around 500 worshippers were inside the churches when the bombers struck.
The attacks have sparked a protest by members of the Christian community in the area. The protesters blocked the main roads near the church, burning tires and chanting against the government of the Punjab province for not providing adequate security to the community.
Christian communities across Pakistan, including its largest city Karachi and capital Islamabad, organized protests in solidarity with the Youhanabad victims and criticized the government for failing to protect them. A faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombings. «These attacks will continue until there is an Islamic system in Pakistan,» said Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the faction.
Sunday’s attack was the deadliest on Pakistan’s Christian community since suicide bombers killed more than 70 people at a church in the northwestern city of Peshawar in September 2013.
In another heinous incident, Pakistani police tortured a young Christian to death after his mother had been previously accused of stealing gold from her employer, a Muslim. According to investigators the woman was charged with having stolen gold items from the house of Abdul Jabar, where she worked as a maid for a meagre amount. The 20 year old Zubair Rashid Masih was taken away by a group of agents who were investigating the theft report against his mother, Ayesha Bibi. However, the young man, unlike other relatives, was detained and died in the hours following his arrest while still in the custody of law enforcement officers.
This incident also occurred in Lahore, and according to preliminary reports provided by CLAAS (Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement), the young man was «violently tortured throughout the night» by the police. The next morning his lifeless body, was «dumped in front of his parents’ house». The charge of theft lodged against Ayesha by Jabbar, has been strongly denied by the woman. She said that one evening the Muslim employer together with a retinue of policemen raided her home, accusing her of stealing gold from his house. The police beat and detained the woman, then dragged her to her brother Arshad Masih, with whom her two sons lived. According to the Muslim employer, Ayesha handed them over the stolen goods, while she continued to proclaim her innocence.
Jabbar began to beat Ayesha, under the indifferent eyes of the police; then the agents took the whole family, to the nearby police station to continue their interrogation. During the long hours of questioning the agents repeatedly used violence and torture against the Christian family, fracturing the woman’s arm. Later the police released all the family, except Zubair. The family feared for the fate of the young man, because often the police use violence during interrogations, especially against Christians. And the fears proved well founded when, on the morning of March 6, they found the body of the 20 year old in front of their door. Doctors confirmed that the death occurred as a result of torture.
For two days the family protested outside the police station. Later under pressure from activists and civil society, on March 8, investigators opened an investigation against an officer and three agents. Despite promises of justice, most likely the story will end with a paltry monetary compensation to the family while the policemen will remain unpunished. Please remember the grieving families of those killed in the bomb blast and Zubair’s persecuted family in your prayers.
GOD MADE ME SPECIAL
I am Aiti Maya Sherpa (Agatha). I hail from West Bengal. My father is a farmer and my mother is a homemaker. Our village is prone to floods as it is a low-lying area and is close to the river. Every year, floods would cause havoc and destroy crops and homes. The poor farmers were helpless. Some who took debts to overcome the financial crisis were unable to repay their loans and committed suicide. It was very difficult to survive in such an atmosphere. Though I was very young at the time, I was aware of the gloom and poverty that engulfed our homes. We had a small Christian community in the village of which my family was a part. During one particularly severe season, my father was desperate to make ends meet. He shared his difficulties with the local pastor. The pastor suggested that in order to reduce the burden of expenses, he should send me to Michael Job Centre where I would be able to avail of free accommodation, food and live a proper and secure life. My mother was reluctant to let me go but soon there was no choice.
I entered the portals of Michael Job Centre 10 years ago, in 2005, and there has been no looking back. It has been a privilege to be a resident and student of this institution which has given me a new life. I learnt to laugh here. I learnt the importance of prayer and the value of friends. I gained the respect for doing chores and putting my heart in whatever I did. I believe I am special for God chose me to be part of a special place.
Now I am giving my board examination of 12th class. I was very much attached to my Godfather Dr. P.P. Job. He was a great man of God filled with love, kindness and compassion towards children. He was also a man of vision who not only dreamed but tried his best to fulfill his vision with determination. He taught us to love life and also embrace hardship with patience and endurance. It is only because of him that I felt my life is worth living. Needless to say he took nothing from us but gave us everything we needed. He left his life’s full experience as a message which is like footprints in the sands of time. He is my inspiration, and I am determined to do my best so that I can serve people in God’s name just like he did. I thank God everyday for the way He has shaped my life.