By Kamran Chaudhry
Another Church has been attacked in Pakistan, this time by a violent mob amid escalating pre-Christmas tensions.
More than 50 armed men stormed St. Paul’s Catholic Church on the night of Dec. 19 night in Sambrial Town of Sialkot district in Punjab Province.
The assailants fired shots into the air and entered the church compound, pulling off its plaque and damaging a window.
Parish priest Father Victor Sawera filed a complaint with police.
According to the priest, the mob was led by Asadullah Randhawa from the purportedly centrist Tehreek-e-Insaf political party of retired Pakistani Muslim cricketer Imran Khan.
Fr. Sawera said some Protestant pastors were trying to apply political pressure to be able to use Catholic premises for small religious gatherings.
“This is our internal matter and Muslims should not get involved,” said Fr. Sawera, who has been negotiating with Protestants over the disagreement since his transfer to the parish in July.
Desperate pastors were now trying to close the church, he added.
Fr. Sawera expressed concern for the safety of worshippers in the wake of the Dec. 17 suicide bombing at the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province.
Nine, worshipers were killed, including three women, and 57 injured.
So-called Islamic State (IS) terrorists claimed responsibility for the attack.
Church security volunteers in Punjab province have been urged to keep licensed firearms at hand during Christmas services.
“We have a team of security volunteers, but they will not be on duty at Christmas,” Fr. Sawera said.
“I do not want another conflict between locals. We shall get a court stay and try to resolve the matter peacefully.”
According to media reports, 16 Churches have been attacked by terrorists and violent mobs in Punjab Province since 1997.
This April, the army arrested then released an alleged female suicide bomber planning to attack a Church in Lahore over Easter.
Rwadari Tehreek, a social interfaith movement, has urged government officials to take tough action against terrorists and militant outfits.
The Christian Chairman of Rwadari Tehreek, Samson Salamat, and the Muslim Vice Chairman, Deedar Ahmed Mirani, called for specific measures to combat the financing of terrorist organizations.
And a joint statement sought the destruction of hideouts and training centers used by militants as well as restrictions on their recruiting activities at educational institutions.
And those engaged in “hate speech” should be arrested, the interfaith group said.