Christian minority in Balochistan is facing greater security issues.
Pakistan’s new prime minister has said that the “major focus” of his government will be to “address the plight of the oppressed and weakest segments of the society, including minorities, and to fight poverty.”
Official results released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) showed that Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party won 109 out of 272 seats in the July 25 national election.
One area where Khan’s reference to the “oppressed and weakest segments of society” might be applied is the southwestern area of Pakistan known as Balochistan. There has been a movement for independence there, and recently the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan has been lending a hand to the Balochi rebels.
The Catholic minority in Balochistan—about 30,000 out of a population of 8 million—live mainly in the capital, Quetta. For many, security concerns present a major issue.
In Quetta there are numerous checkpoints, and in many areas of the city one needs a special permit, which has to be requested several days in advance, to travel, according to Aid to the Church in Need, a papal charity that helps the local Church.
Bishop Victor Gnanapragasam cannot travel freely and is subject to constant police checks, ACN says. “His cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, is situated in the same area as an army barracks, which means that a special permit is required to enter it,” says the agency. “As a result, many of the Catholic faithful cannot even get there for Holy Mass.
Bishop Gnanapragasam himself requires a special permit in order to gain access to his own cathedral and has to call the authorities in advance every time and request permission, ACN says. “And he is again and again stopped and searched by the security forces at the checkpoints.”
For priests, the situation is getting more and more difficult, the charity says. The area within which they can move freely is becoming smaller. On account of the fighting between the rebels and the government, many places are completely off-limits.
“As soon as the fighting stops, we endeavor to visit our Catholic faithful,” Bishop Gnanapragasam said. “In doing so, however, we risk being killed by landmines and rocket propelled grenades. It saddens us greatly that we cannot visit the people more frequently.“
The fact that many of the Catholic faithful live scattered across a vast area of the province in very small communities also makes it difficult for the diocese’s five priests to get to some parts. The province is roughly equivalent to the size of Germany. Any kind of regular Church life in Balochistan is hard to attain.
ACN has an arrangement in which it sends Mass offerings from donors to Bishop Gnanapragasam. “We were able to send them Mass stipends to a total value of 10,100 euros,” the agency said.