Pakistani bishop decries government land grab

Lahore, Pakistan, May 26, 2012 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- Pakistani Bishop Sebastian F. Shaw is calling for the return of Church land that was seized after the provincial government bulldozed a school, chapel and homeless shelter on the site this past January.

Months later, the Punjab provincial government has yet to restore the land to the Archdiocese of Lahore, despite recent promises to do so.

“It looks like empty promises,” Bishop Shaw told Aid to the Church in Need on May 25.

“Even after a meeting with a government official who assured us of an immediate return, nothing happened,” he said.

Early on the morning of Jan. 10, local authorities supervised the destruction of the Church-owned site which served as housing for homeless people, a school for underprivileged girls and a chapel.

“As Christians, we’re an easy victim for the government,” Bishop Shaw said, “as they don’t have to fear any outbursts of violence.”

Now the local government says that it will offer no restitution for the destruction of the property and that the archdiocese must pay to rebuild a Church-run school on the site.

But the Punjab government has yet to return the land to the Archdiocese of Lahore.

Bishop Shaw, who is the apostolic administrator of the Lahore archdiocese, said “it’s not impossible that this is just another method of delaying restitution, as the government may be hoping that we can’t fulfil this condition.”

Controversy over the property ownership began in 2007 after a woman who converted to Islam claimed ownership of the rooms in the Church-run shelter that she was living in. The government claimed the building was not being used and later razed the buildings.

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