During a visit to Pakistan, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches has urged for the protection of religious minorities and the need for the state to take necessary measures against religious intolerance.
“The Pakistani government should not turn a blind eye to the culture of violence perpetrated through the use and abuse of the blasphemy law, which intensify communal hatred, intolerance and persecution that can hit anybody in the country, and particularly the religious minorities,” said the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, speaking at a press conference in Lahore, at the end of his three day visit.
Christians are among country’s religious minorities, alongside Hindus, Ahmadis, Parsees, Sikh and Baha'is, who are affected severely by the discriminatory laws - including the ambiguous blasphemy law 295 C, which has caused many lives, including of the minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, this year.
During his stay in Pakistan, Dr Tveit met with church and ecumenical leaders and representatives of civil society organisations.
The church leaders shared with him how religious minorities especially Christians, "live in an atmosphere of insecurity. The existences of Christians have never been threatened as it is today, and the situation has gone worse in the past years,” the WCC chief was told.
Dr Tveit emphasised that “Pakistan should give protection to every citizen, also its religious minorities under the constitution of the country.”
He recalled assurance given to the religious minorities from the founder of the country Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who clearly stated, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this state of Pakistan,” in 1947 after the country’s independence.
Dr Tveit was accompanied on his visit by Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, who described this visit as “timely solidarity expression since the Christian minorities are fearful of the violence which is a threat to the interfaith harmony and peaceful co-existence.”
From 8 – 10 October, the WCC General Secretary addressed an ecumenical gathering at the headquarters of the National Christian Council of Pakistan, met with national executive committee of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, attended a public reception organised by the Synod of the Church of Pakistan and the Raiwind Diocese, and participated at the dedication of the Central Cathedral of Praying Hands in Lahore. In his greetings he quoted Psalm 85: “Righteousness will look down from the sky.”
Dr Tveit also delivered a keynote address at a Christian mission conference on the theme, “Finding God in a Challenging and Difficult Situation”, organised by the Church of Pakistan.