PAKISTAN: Bishop demands Punjab government return seized land
By Eva-Maria Kolmann and John Newton
25 May 2012
The leader of a diocese in Pakistan has decried the government’s failure to return a Church-owned site, which was used for social projects – including a shelter for the homeless – before authorities demolished the buildings.
The centre was confiscated and razed on 9 January 2012.
Bishop Sebastian Francis Shaw, Apostolic Administrator of Lahore Archdiocese, said that the land where the centre stood still had not been returned – despite promises from the provincial government.
Talking to Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Shaw said: “It looks like empty promises. Even after a meeting with a government official who assured us of an immediate return, nothing happened.”
The centre in Lahore’s Garhi Shahu district housed a day centre for the elderly, a sewing school for girls and other projects run by the Church – as well as a chapel.
It was demolished under the supervision of Punjabi government officials and police cordoned off the site during the destruction of the buildings.
Bishop Shaw said: “If the provincial government restores the property to us, they won’t compensate us for tearing down the building. We have to pay for the reconstruction ourselves – this is unjust.”
The government has demanded that a Church-run school be built on the land – as a precondition for its return – and insisted this should be financed by the diocese.
Bishop Shaw said: “It’s not impossible that this is just another method of delaying restitution, as the government may be hoping that we can’t fulfil this condition.
“As Christians, we’re an easy victim for the government, as they don’t have to fear any outbursts of violence.”
According to the bishop local Christians are extremely angry over the situation: “They say, ‘We’re natural-born Pakistanis, we’re working for Pakistan’s progress and welfare. The government should protect us!’”
An employee of the archdiocese is currently reviewing all legal documents relating to Church property in Lahore.
The centre, which was founded in 1887, became the subject of a legal dispute in 2007.
The government seized the property in January 2012 after a woman who converted to Islam claimed ownership of the rooms in the Church-run shelter she was living in. They claimed the building was not being used.