Bhutto assassination recalls struggles of church in Pakistan

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto smiles while meeting with leaders of the Pakistan People's Party at her residence in Karachi in late November. (CNS/Reuters)Today’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto is also an occasion to reflect on the impact of the Catholic Church in Muslim-majority Pakistan. As this story from 2005 notes, “Catholic missionaries have educated some of Pakistan’s most influential politicians,” including Bhutto as well as current Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.

The 2005 story itself is about a mob attack on a Catholic church compound in Sangla Hill, sparked by allegations that a Christian had burned pages from the Quran. But it also contains excellent background information on how Catholics and Muslims had lived in peace:

Christians and Muslims in Sangla Hill said they previously enjoyed good relations.

“We even used to attend each other’s weddings,” said Botta Masih Shindhu, a local Christian leader. “This is the first time we have seen anything like this in our lifetime.”

“The attackers came from outside this town,” said Mufti Muhammad Zulfiqar Rizvi, leader of the largest mosque in the city. He denied allegations that the crowd was incited over the mosque loudspeakers.

“I tried to stop them. I told them there should be no violence against any religious house,” said the bearded, smiling man. “But they would not listen.”

But that’s not to say that Catholic-Muslim relations are typically rosy. Far from it. A month after our Sangla Hill story, we had this from Bishop Anthony Lobo of Islamabad-Rawalpindi (who is quoted in today’s assassination story) decrying the eviction of hundreds of Christians from their homes.

Bishop Lobo also figured prominently in this CNS story about a conference in Italy on Christian-Muslim relations. He said then that most violence between members of the two groups is based on caste differences, not religion, and that the “Muslim world” is far from uniform.

PHOTO: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto smiles while meeting with leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party at her residence in Karachi in late November. (CNS/Reuters)

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