Christians in Punjab’s Jaranwala sat among the rubble of one of their ransacked churches for the first Sunday service since a mob rampaged through their neighbourhood.
Several of their homes and churches were vandalised in the hours-long riot on Wednesday, after allegations that a copy of the Holy Quran was desecrated spread through the city.
Some are sheltering at a government school or staying with relatives while the local government has promised to rebuild them.
Hundreds of Christians fled the violence in Jaranwala, many unable to return yet — their houses gutted and broken contents strewn across the street.
On Sunday, around 200 Christians sat in chairs set up in a narrow alley alongside the main Salvation Army Church — its cross still missing after being ripped down by the crowds.
“We used to come here without any fear but today we need the police,” 29-year-old housewife Nosheen Farman, who cannot yet return to her burned home, told AFP.
“We did not bring our children, the ones who we teach that they must come to church.”
A choir girl sang alongside a tabla player, as dozens of security personnel guarded the area.
The crowds joined their hands together in prayer, except to occasionally wipe their eyes.
Many of the attendees had come from surrounding cities to show support.
While the church was too damaged to host the service, Christians entered in small groups to survey the blackened windows and cracked ceilings.
“After the recent incident, we have a lot of security doubts. We are wondering whether we are safe or not,” said 32-year-old Sara Ejaz, a teacher who is staying with relatives nearby.
“Is this our country or not?”
“These buildings and houses will be restored, but it will be difficult for girls and children to come out of this trauma. They will always remember the terror they faced, that they had to flee their own homes,” said 44-year-old Samson Salamat.
More than 125 people have been arrested linked to the vandalism, with 12 others being investigated for using mosque loudspeakers to call people to protest, Punjab Inspector General of Police Usman Anwar had told AFP on Friday.
Two Christian brothers have also been arrested on allegations of blasphemy.
Ulema council, Church of Pakistan announce 24-member investigation committee
Later today, the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) and Church of Pakistan jointly announced a 24-member committee as part of their effort to address the tragic incident, investigate it, foster interfaith and interdenominational unity and quell extremist narratives.
Co-chaired by PUC Chairman Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi and Church of Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshal, the committee comprises diverse leaders, including Bishop Aleem Anwar, Bishop Arshad Joseph, Muswar Abbasi, Pastor Immanuel Khokhar, Zaheer Abbas, Pastor Shahzad Gul, Pastor Immanuel Lorraine, Bishop Leoradic Paul, Bishop Alvin Samorel, Mishaal Samorel, Sahil Advocate, Pir Naqibur Rehman, Sahibzada Hassan Haseebur Rehman, Maulana Ziaullah Shah Bukhari, Allama Arif Wahidi, Allama Tahirul Hasan, Maulana Asadullah Farooq, Maulana Muhammad Aslam Siddiqui, Farzd Islam, Sardar Ajmal Advocate, Sajid Iqbal Advocate and other dignitaries.
Ashrafi emphasised during a media interaction that building a peaceful and resilient country required active participation from all segments of society. He stressed the inclusion of leaders from various religions in the 24-member committee, bridging the gap between Muslim and Christian leaders.
“We must strive to cultivate tolerance, respect, and patience in our society and reject any attempts to exploit religion for personal or political gains,” he added.
He further noted that concerted efforts would be made across all levels to discourage illegal actions under the guise of blasphemy or religious insult.
Ashrafi said the PUC had pledged to provide assistance to the young victims of the Jaranwala incident, announcing their commitment to organise arrangements for the affected girls’ dowries as part of their ongoing support efforts.
PPP delegation visits Jaranwala
A PPP delegation, including Sherry Rehman, Nayyar Bokhari, Nadeem Afzal Chan, Faisal Karim Kundi and Malaika Raza, also visited Jaranwala on the instructions of party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
The delegation met people affected by the violence and visited churches as well.
“Condemnations and arrests not enough now. Rebuilding too will not be enough. Safety of homes and hearths of all Pakistani citizens must be guaranteed,” Rehman said.