Monday, February 6, 2012

Pakistan: Row over demolition of historic Roman Catholic institution

By Rodrick Samson 
Special Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service in Pakistan

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- The row has broken out in Pakistan after the Gosh-e-Aman Institute, an historic Roman Catholic institution, established in 1887, has been demolished on the orders of the Punjab provincial government
Zenobia Richards sitting amidst the rubble
It stood on a 2-acre area now worth billions of rupees and housed a senior citizens’ home, a girls’ school, a convent and a chapel and was demolished on January 10, 2012.

The legal arguments over who owned the building and the land has been going on for some time; at least since a woman convert to Islam had sought shelter in the facility.

The Catholic Church had filed a petition at the Lahore High Court (LHC) protesting at what he says is the illegal demolishing of the building.
Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace has been leading the case at the Lahore High Court.

The residents have since been trying to find shelter.

Zenobia Richards, 61, told ANS, “The Catholic Church has filed the petition only for the illegal demolishing, but not for the desecration of the church, which is unacceptable. I have filed a case at the LHC against the desecration of the Bible, Mary`s Statue and the rosary. I am surprised that the Church in spite of having the authority didn’t mention the desecration.

“I have also questioned them that why they had given the land to a Muslim inside the church premises. I will fight for my right. I saw everything happening in front of my eyes. God has given me the courage to file a case for blasphemy.”
Surveying what is left of the institution

Father Emmanuel Yousaf, after appearing in the LHC said, “The case is in the court and we have full confidence in our legal system. We have filed the case for illegal demolishing of Gosh-e-Aman. We are trying to do whatever we can for the displaced.”

A representative from the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) said that the land was government property, and it was in possession of a “land mafia.” The group was led by a woman, who was a Christian who had converted to Islam. She had deployed armed men around the property to resist demolition by the LDA officials. The church had not been able to oust her, but she left the place before it was demolished.

Pervaiz Rafique, a Member Provincial Assembly says that he will be raising the matter on the floor of the Punjab assembly and will demand the Government officials to answer why they had illegally demolished the Church property.
Discussing what can be done about the demolition
Zenobia Richards, 61, has been working for the Catholic Church for over 24 years,and she lived alone and had no connection with the Muslim convert.

The case is in the court, the Church leadership has refused to talk to anyone regarding the proceedings. The question about the Muslim convert being the legal or illegal occupant is being investigated as she claimed that she had the property documents and the church had transferred the land to her, but the LDA and other government officials say she was illegally living there.

Gosh-e-Aman (Corner of peace) was established by Catholic Church of Pakistan in 1887 and, after the creation of Pakistan, it was being administered jointly by the Catholic Church, Anglican Church and the Presbyterian Church. Later, in 1970’s, Caritas was looking after the property. Since 2001 a welfare trust had been taking care of the premises. There were around 5-6 families in the premises along with the women who later converted and became a Muslim.

Rodrick Samson is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

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