Conflicting reports regarding the status of precious church property in Peshawar has triggered unrest in the Christian community living in the city and other parts of the country.
The controversy started after members of the Church of Pakistan’s Peshawar diocese took to social media and shared photos and videos of demolition work on a boundary wall of an 8-kanal piece of land located in Saint John’s Cathedral Church in Peshawar’s posh Cantonment area.
The videos circulating on social media showed a large number of congregation members protesting in the compound of the Saint John’s Church after the Sunday mass on Aug 7, against the razing of the wall. The protesters claimed that church officials had allegedly struck a secret deal with a restaurant chain and were selling the precious church property.
The videos also showed church officials, including property secretary Reverend Altaf, trying to placate the protesters with conflicting responses about the status of the land.
A letter addressed to Church of Pakistan’s President Bishop Dr Azad Marshall that carried the signatures of over 30 congregation members, a copy of which is available with Kross Konnection, claims that the church officials were allegedly selling the land to a restaurant.
“We urge you to intervene in the matter and save the precious property. Church and other missionary properties are the heritage of our future generations and we cannot allow their sale under any circumstances,” the letter stated.
Imran Yousaf, a member of the Church Property Bachao Tehreek, said that Peshawar Diocese Bishop Humphrey Peters was in London to attend the Lambeth Conference but other church officials had assured them of allaying their concerns in a meeting on Wednesday.
“We went to the church office on Wednesday but neither the property secretary nor other officials were ready to meet us. This is only lending credence to reports that they have struck a deal to sell the land. Some sources in the church office are saying that the restaurant chain will build a college for girls on the land in return for using the property as a parking area for its customers while some are saying they will build a hostel. We believe these are all pretexts to hand over possession of the land,” he said.
Kross Konnection contacted Monal Restaurant Peshawar to verify the claims but their admin manager Syed Muhammad Ibrar denied that they had struck any property deal with the church.
Talking to Kross Konnection on the phone from London, Bishop Humphrey also denied that the property was being sold to any restaurant chain.
“A handful of people are misleading the community by spreading such rumours on social media. It is true that we want to build a girls’ college on the vacant land but we will not hand it over to any private entity under any circumstances. The property is owned by the Lahore Diocese Trust Association (LDTA) since 1956.
“The wall has been razed by the Cantonment authorities as part of a beautification campaign. They will put up a fence in place of the wall, many other walls in the area have also been demolished for the same purpose,” he said, adding that no prior permission was sought from the church authorities for the move.
However, the diocesan bishop revealed that the church had a dispute with the adjacent Peshawar Services Club over the vacant land, details of which he assured would be shared later.
“All I can say now is that we are discussing the matter with the army leadership,” he said.
Kross Konnection made repeated attempts to contact LTDA Secretary Reverend Shahid Meraj for his views on the land dispute but he remained unavailable.