The Christian minority in Balochistan is facing greater security issues
Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, said that the “major focus” of his government will be to “address the plight of the oppressed and weakest segments of the society, including minorities, and to fight poverty.”
One region to which the term “oppressed and weakest segments of society” could be applied is the southwestern area of Pakistan known as Balochistan. The Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan has been helping the rebels in the region who are calling for independence.
The Catholic minority in Balochistan—about 30,000 out of a population of 8 million—live mainly in the capital, Quetta, where security concerns are becoming a major issue for many. Local priests told Aid to the Church in Need that there are many checkpoints throughout Quetta and in many areas of the city one needs a special permit, which has to be requested several days in advance, to travel. Bishop Victor Gnanapragasam says that he cannot travel freely and is subject to constant police checks.
“My cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, is situated in the same area as an army barracks, which means that a special permit is required to enter it. As a result, many of the Catholic faithful cannot even get there for Holy Mass,” he told ACN.
The Bishop requires a special permit in order to gain access to his own cathedral and has to call the authorities in advance to request permission every time he goes there.. Even then he is regularly stopped and searched by the security forces at the checkpoints.
The situation is getting more and more difficult for priests too, as the area within which they can move freely is becoming smaller. Many places are now completely off-limits because of the fighting between the rebels and the government.
“As soon as the fighting stops, we endeavour to visit our Catholic faithful,” Bishop Gnanapragasam said. “In doing so, however, we risk being killed by landmines and rocket-propelled grenades. It saddens us greatly that we cannot visit the people more frequently.“
The province of Balochistan is roughly equivalent to the size of Germany and many of the Catholic faithful live in very small communities scattered across a vast area of the province. This makes it difficult for the diocese’s five priests to get to some areas and any kind of regular Church life in Balochistan is hard to attain.
ACN is helping the priests in Balochistan by sending Mass offerings from donors to Bishop Gnanapragasam. “We were able to send them Mass stipends to a total value of 10,100 euros,” an ACN spokesperson said.