Pakistani church authorities have welcomed the Punjab government’s decision to hand over administrative control of four nationalised missionary educational institutes to their respective missions, but demanded that the decision be officially notified.
Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Ejaz Alam Augustine on March 22, announced in a press conference that the provincial cabinet presided by Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had approved the return of the missionary schools to the church authorities in its 52nd meeting on March 21.
According to Augustine, the administrative control of the Govt Saint Francis High School in Anarkali, Lahore, would be handed back to the Catholic Church while the other three schools, including Govt Rang Mahal Christian High School, Lahore, Govt Christian Higher Secondary School, Raja Bazar Rawalpindi, and Govt Christian Girls High School, Haji Pura Sialkot, would be returned to the Presbyterian Church.
Govt Saint Francis High School in Anarkali is said to be the oldest of the four schools established in 1842. Govt Rang Mahal Christian High School was built in 1849, Govt Christian Higher Secondary School Raja Bazar, Rawalpindi in 1856, and Govt Christian Girls High School, Haji Pura Sialkot in 1857.
All missionary education institutes were nationalised in 1972 by the regime of then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Christian educationists blame the nationalisation for the low literacy rate in their community, weakened church institutions, and creating insecurity among them.
Speaking to a gathering at the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan head office on Wednesday evening, Church of Pakistan Moderator Bishop Dr Azad Marshall appreciated the Punjab government’s decision but demanded formal notifications in this regard.
“We welcome the government’s decision but this is not the first time such assurances have been given to us. We would like to see tangible actions now,” he told the gathering where Minister Ejaz Augustine, Catholic Archbishop of Lahore Sebastian Shaw, PCP Executive Secretary Majeed Abel, Cathedral Church Hall Road Deacon Shahid Meraj and a delegation of Presbyterian Church USA were also present.
Bishop Azad also raised concern over reports that the government had decided to pay existing staff members from the public exchequer while church authorities would pay salaries to new teachers.
“When Forman Christian College University was returned to the church by the Musharraf regime there was bitter resistance but now the security situation is even more precarious. The government must ensure security and peaceful transition of the administrative control of these four institutions,” he urged.
Taking note of Bishop Azad’s concerns, Minister Augustine said that the official notification of the schools’ handover will be issued in a “couple of days”.
“It’s a fact that successive governments promised to return custody of the missionary schools but it didn’t happen. However, this time the provincial cabinet has formally given its consent and this decision cannot be challenged even by the courts,” he claimed.
Augustine said that while the Catholic Church would regain administrative control of the St Francis High School in Lahore, the land worth billions of rupees was owned by the Punjab government.
“However, the PCP owns the Rang Mahal school property,” he added.
Addressing the gathering, Catholic Archbishop Sebastian Shaw thanked Augustine for making efforts for the return of the schools.
“I also want to thank Education Minister Murad Raas who in every meeting we had with him in the last three years promised to give back our schools,” he said.