LAHORE, Pakistan — A Pakistani Catholic archbishop who migrated to Canada after his retirement said his focus now is on helping persecuted Pakistani Christians who seek asylum in Canada.
Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, the former archbishop of Lahore who moved to Canada shortly after his retirement in 2011, celebrated 60 years of priesthood Jan. 16. He became a Canadian citizen in 2016.
“We live in a dark and dangerous world that is threatened by climate change, wars, economic hardships, and large-scale migrations. In the past seven years, the problem of asylum-seekers has grown acutely,” the 83-year-old archbishop told ucanews.org in an email.
In Pakistan, church leaders say Christians often become the targets of violence, rape and harassment and are treated as second-class citizens for following a religion other than Islam.
Besides physical violence, the judiciary and governments at all levels are habitually biased against Christians in a country where stringent regulations, such as the blasphemy law that stipulates capital punishment, are used to settle personal scores, they say.
Saldanha spoke of the many Pakistanis who have left their country. Some 1,500 asylum-seekers from Pakistan — most without proper refugee status — are living in and around Bangkok. Amnesty International reports more than 1,000 Pakistani Ahmadis, a minority Muslim sect, also live as refugees and asylum-seekers in Sri Lanka. The island nation also hosts another 200 Christians and Shiite Muslims from Pakistan.
“A few have been successful” in finding asylum, but “hundreds are stranded and face misery and hardship in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia,” said the archbishop.
“I would like to help more Christians migrate, but I am unable to do so because of Canadian policies. The present mood is not so favorable toward new immigrants. Still, I have appealed to the authorities to admit more Christian refugees on a humanitarian basis,” the prelate said.
About 10 parishes in Canada have sponsored Pakistani Christian families. At least 18 families from Bangkok have recently been accepted and are preparing to migrate after at least two years of nervous waiting. The archbishop said he also helps “some deserving cases of new Pakistani immigrant families who have been sponsored by parishes in Canada.”
The migration process “is very expensive” and takes more than two years, Saldanha said.
He said Catholics in Canada “have little understanding of the complex problems of the Church in Pakistan. It is quite a different situation.”
“I am sorry to observe the growing unjust and inhumane treatment of minorities” in Pakistan, he said.
“They have to deal with an extremist ideology which favors forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls. The nationalization of Christian educational institutions is another challenge.”
When the Toronto Archdiocese dedicated its World Refugee Day program to Pakistani Christians last September, the archbishop gave a presentation on the challenges faced by Pakistan’s Christians, including exploitation and abuses faced by women from religious minorities.
The Center for Social Justice, a Lahore-based nongovernmental organization, recorded 160 cases of forced conversions, forced marriages and related crimes involving minority women and minor girls between 2013 and 2019.
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