Christians in Jaranwala sat among the rubble of one of their ransacked churches for the first Sunday service since a mob rampaged through their neighbourhood.
Several of their homes and churches were vandalised in the hours-long riot on Wednesday, after allegations that a copy of the Quran was desecrated spread through the city.
Some are sheltering at a government school or staying with relatives while the local government has promised to rebuild their homes. Hundreds of Christians fled the violence in Jaranwala, many unable to return yet — their houses gutted and broken contents strewn across the street.
On Sunday, around 200 Christians sat in chairs set up in a narrow alley alongside the main Salvation Army Church — its cross still missing after being ripped down by the crowds.
“We used to come here without any fear but today we need the police,” 29-year-old housewife Nosheen Farman, who cannot yet return to her burned home, told AFP.
“We did not bring our children, the ones who we teach that they must come to church.”
A choir girl sang alongside a tabla player, as dozens of security personnel guarded the area.
The crowds joined their hands together in prayer, except to occasionally wipe their eyes.
Many of the attendees had come from surrounding cities to show support.
The mass was led by Church of Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshall who was accompanied by bishops of the Faisalabad, Multan and Sialkot dioceses, and local leaders of The Salvation Army.
In his sermon, the senior church leader spoke on perseverance and encouraged all Christians, especially those who have suffered losses, to remain steadfast in their faith.
The church leaders also lit a candle together to express solidarity with the victims and give a message of hope to their beleaguered community members.
While the church was too damaged to host the service, Christians entered in small groups to survey the blackened windows and cracked ceilings.
“After the recent incident, we have a lot of security doubts. We are wondering whether we are safe or not,” said 32-year-old Sara Ejaz, a teacher who is staying with relatives nearby.
‘IS THIS OUR COUNTRY OR NOT?’
“These buildings and houses will be restored, but it will be difficult for girls and children to come out of this trauma. They will always remember the terror they faced, that they had to flee their own homes,” said 44-year-old Samson Salamat.
More than 125 people linked to the vandalism have been arrested, with 12 others being investigated for using mosque loudspeakers to call people to protest, according to Punjab Inspector General of Police Usman Anwar.
Two Christian brothers have also been arrested on allegations of blasphemy.
Punjab’s Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi made a brief visit to the affected areas and after a meeting with the church leaders, announced that the government would give a compensation of Rs 2 million each to the affected families.
He also announced that the district peace committee had offered to allow Christians to hold their prayer services in mosques till the time their churches were restored.
Though media did not have access to the meeting between government officials and church leaders held in a restored church hall, sources told Kross Konnection that the Christian leaders strongly condemned the violent attacks on churches and homes and demanded exemplary punishment for the perpetrators.
“Bishop Azad was concluding the service when suddenly the chief minister and his cabinet members entered the hall. CM Naqvi said that he had come with a single-point agenda and would hold a cabinet meeting right there to show his government’s resolve to help the poor Christians. He then proposed a monetary compensation for the affectees which was immediately approved by his cabinet,” the source said.
He said that the Christian leaders condemned the delayed police action and sought strict departmental action against the negligent police officials.
“Some community members are alleging that the church leaders had struck a ‘deal’ with the government to brush the issue under the carpet but in reality they were very firm on the demands,” the source said.
In a post on X (formerly twitter), Bishop Azad called for an end to “judicial apartheid” and demanded fair application of laws on the majority and minority communities.
“The Bishop calls an end to Judicial Apartheid through the fair and equal application of laws between the majority and minority populations, aiming to prevent future incidents similar to those in Jaranwala,” he stated.
He also called for substantial efforts for the restoration of the vandalized churches.
“While approximately 20 churches continue to endure challenges without basic amenities, one church was singled out and minimally restored for the Chief Minister’s visit to Jaranwala. The town, after facing immense tragedy and violence requires substantial efforts for recovery,” he said.
The senior church leader lauded the CM’s efforts to restore normalcy in the riot-hit town but called for ensuring “equal laws for equal citizens”.
Bishop Marshall said that after finishing his speech, the CM was caught off guard by a young girl who asked him: “Can you guarantee this won’t happen again? Can you ensure our safety? Can you confirm that I, as a Pakistani Christian, am valued?”
“Her query has sparked numerous additional questions in my mind too. It demands an answer: equal laws for equal citizens,” he stated.
Later in the day, the Church of Pakistan and Pakistan Ulema Council jointly announced a 24-member committee as part of their effort to address the tragic incident, investigate it, foster interfaith and interdenominational unity and quell extremist narratives. The committee will be co-chaired by Bishop Marshall and PUC Chairman Hafiz Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi.
Ashrafi emphasised during a media interaction that building a peaceful and resilient country required active participation from all segments of society. He stressed the inclusion of leaders from various religions in the 24-member committee, bridging the gap between Muslim and Christian leaders.
“We must strive to cultivate tolerance, respect, and patience in our society and reject any attempts to exploit religion for personal or political gains,” he added.
He said that concerted efforts would be made across all levels to discourage illegal actions under the guise of blasphemy or religious insult.