Newly released from jail, 40 Christians in Pakistan find help rebuilding their lives

FORTY CHRISTIANS IN PAKISTAN—finally acquitted and released from jail—are to benefit from a basketball court, counseling sessions and money for start-up businesses so they can rebuild their lives and put the past behind them.  Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has agreed to a $80,000 plan to help rehabilitate the men acquitted in January following an out-of-court settlement.

Lahore, Pakistan (Magdalena Wolnik)

Returning to their homes after five years in prison, the men, who had been accused of lynching two Muslims, will receive a comprehensive program of reintegration back into the Christian district of Youhanabad, Lahore. They will be offered six counselling sessions over the course of 12 months, finance for small businesses, including money to rent premises, as well as 10 auto-rickshaws and five rickshaw vans.

Key to the reintegration progrom is basketball which will be played on a court to be built opposite the rectory of Youhanabad’s St John’s Catholic Church. St John’s parish priest Father Francis Gulzar stressed the need for the basketball court “to engage the group in healthy physical activity as well as give them a platform to get together and help each other to overcome the trauma and depression of being imprisoned for something they were not guilty of.”

He added: “Returning to lives of low wages and high rates of unemployment with a history of spending almost five years in prison [means] that life is going to be really difficult and challenging for these men.” During their incarceration in Lahore, there were widespread reports of mistreatment of the men and two Christians caught up in the case died while in prison.

There was widespread criticism of police behavior leading up to the men’s arrests. Church leaders claimed police had gone “house to house aiming at arresting as many Christians as possible,” while investigating the lynching of the two Muslim men.

The lynching came amid riots sparked by suicide bomb blasts targeting Christians attending Sunday services both at St John’s and Christ Church, also in Youhanabad. At least 20 people died and 80 were injured in the blasts, which took place in March 2015.

ACN Executive President Thomas Heine-Geldern said: “Given their long and terrible ordeal behind bars, the need to help the ex-prisoners could not be more important. Pastoral care is of great importance to regain mental strength. In addition, studies have repeatedly highlighted how sports can play a vital part in the process of recovery from trauma. Combining this with financial help is crucial, as they and their families rebuild their lives.”

—John Pontifex