Fear has silenced the voice of Pakistani Christians since the political murder of Shahbaz Bhatti last spring, the retired Archbishop of Lahore has said.
Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha said: “People are very sad, very bitter. They said: ‘If that happens to him what happens to us?’ ”
Bhatti’s killers remain at large. The convicted murderer of Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, was greeted in court with rose petals and garlands. In an atmosphere of impunity for anyone who kills a Christian, many educated Pakistani Christians are leaving the country. Those who remain are keeping their heads down and their mouths shut, said Archbishop Saldanha.
“In such a situation, minorities don’t have much place. There’s no tolerance for other religions,” he said. “Either you convert or you leave. This is the choice.”
Archbishop Saldanha moved to Toronto in early November, joining his extended family in the city’s east end, where he hopes to involve himself in parish ministry. He made his comments to the Catholic Register, a Canadian Catholic weekly.
He said that in the more than 50 years since his priestly ordination, he had 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 March 2. Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard Jan. 4. Both men spoke publicly against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Waves of suicide bombings, targeted killings and death threats against Christians have human rights campaigners and staff for the Pakistani bishops’ justice and peace commission keeping their statements low-key and their names out of the papers. Even educated Muslims in Pakistan’s cities have turned against the country’s religious minorities, the archbishop said.
“The mentality is changing, especially among the middle class and lower-middle class,” said Archbishop Saldanha, who led the justice and peace commission for 10 years. “They are being Talibanised.”