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Catholic Church Keeps Shrinking in Rawalpindi (Pakistan)

Minority woes: The church keeps shrinking, canteen keeps growing
(By Zahid Rabbani for The Express Tribue)

“Taking into account the present day security situation in Pakistan, a canteen right under the sanctuary where Father Anwar Pastras — a priest of the Diocese of Rawalpindi — sits to preach, is a threat to people coming to the church as a terrorist can come through the canteen to disrupt the church’s peaceful environment. It is the height of indifference on the hospital’s part that we cannot remain safe even inside a church,” said Babu Sajid Amin Khokhar, catechist in-charge of the Holy Family Catholic Church.
“It is really sad that despite making major contributions to the city`s health and education needs, Christian community itself is still suffering today,” adds Khokhar.
Pastras recalled that in the past, “the tandoor (clay oven) of the canteen was also right under the sanctuary, which used to make the floor so hot it was difficult to sit there. Finally, church authorities bore the expenses of shifting the tandoor outside the church building.”
“A canteen had been built in the basement of the new hospital building. God knows why it was closed down. The former Medical Superintendent (MS) of the hospital had also pledged to shift the canteen from its present location, but he was transferred before he could fulfill that promise. The present MS was also contacted in this regard, but he claimed they lacked funds,” he added.
Pastras and Khokhar found it paradoxical that “on one hand, the hospital’s MS claimed lack of funds was the reason the canteen could not be shifted, while on the other hand, precious land from a compound adjacent to the church has been given on a Rs4.2 million contract to run a canteen and shops. Who will ask the hospital administration where all that contract money went?”
“We also offered to bear the expenses of shifting the canteen elsewhere as we did in the case of the tandoor, for which we are still awaiting the MS’s response,” they say.
The HFH medical superintendent told The Express Tribune that under an agreement signed between the two parties, the hall on the upper floor of the church belonged to the hospital and not the church. But the church authorities denied this, and when the hospital was asked for proof by the church, they could not produce any such agreement.
The canteen dispute is not the only bone of contention. The handing over of the hall on the upper floor of the church is also an issue.
In the mid-1990’s, priest John William first demanded the return of the upper story hall because of a considerable increase in the local Christian population.
“Our community is growing and there are a considerable number of Christian workers in the hospital, so we need the hall to accommodate them,” explains Mukhtar Masih, who works at HFH.
I just can’t understand why the hall is not being returned as the hospital administration has several halls in the new block built in front of the church building and many more in the new building. The training institute also has several halls where conferences are held. They can also be used by the hospital administration,” says Khokhar.
The demand for the return of the hall was also made by the Christian community on August 11, 2011 during a programme in connection with Independence Day celebrations, where MNA Shakeel Awan was the chief guest. Exactly a year later on August 11, 2012, MPAs Ziaullah Shah, Raja Hanif and Malik Iftikhar also promised to get in touch with the Punjab chief minister on the issue, but with no results.
British citizens purchased 22 acres in 1969 and handed over the property — designated solely for a church — to church authorities through a trustee deed. According to the deed, the property can only be used for the welfare of the Christian community.
A mosque, several shops and a number of illegal houses built on land grabbed from the property would suggest otherwise.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2013 at the following link:

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