In Pakistan, many poor Christians and members of religious minorities continue to be denied food aid and basic necessities during the Covid- 19 emergency.
By Robin Gomes
Some Muslim charities and mosques have denied their food aid and emergency kits to Christians and members of minority communities.
Cecil Shane Chaudhry, the executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC), made the observation to the international Catholic charity and foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Discrimination against Christians
Chaudhry argued that with Covid-19, everyone is at risk regardless of their religion. Hence, it is unjust that Christians and other minorities be denied emergency aid, especially when they are among those hardest hit.
The NCJP executive director urged the Pakistani government to target aid to the most vulnerable and provide masks, gloves and other protective equipment to health and domestic workers.
In the latest tally, nearly 66,500 cases of Covid-19 infection have been reported in Pakistan, with close to 1,400 deaths. According to Chaudhry, many cases go unreported.
ACN approves grant for Pakistan
ACN International executive president, Thomas Heine-Geldern lamented that “even during this global crisis, such minorities are being clearly disadvantaged,” in Pakistan. ACN has taken action to provide food and other Covid-19 emergency aid to more than 5,000 of the poorest families in Pakistan. On 28 May, it approved a grant targeting the most vulnerable in the capital, Islamabad, as well as in Rawalpindi, and the Dioceses of Lahore and Faisalabad.
Heine-Geldern observed that Christians are among the poorest and hardest hit by the lockdown in Pakistan. He said the emergency has “deprived them of their already meagre livelihoods and forced them to live through the crisis in extremely cramped and overcrowded conditions with a minimum of resources.”
He said many Christians earn the lowest wages, working as day labourers, domestic servants, cleaners or kitchen staff. “All these areas of employment,” he said, “are precisely the ones that have been most impacted by the economic shutdown.”
“Many Christian employees have been dismissed without notice by families for whom they have worked for years.” The ACN Executive President said these employers fear the poor may bring infection into their homes.
Awareness creation, PPE, Mass stipends
In Faisalabad, the ACN emergency aid programme includes the use of radio and social media to raise awareness of the risks of coronavirus and ways to protect against it. ACN has planned to distribute facemasks for the faithful in churches and equip priests, nuns, catechists, diocesan staff and volunteers with personal protection equipment.
As part of its COVID-19 programme for Pakistan, ACN is providing Mass stipends for 70 priests in the Archdiocese of Lahore, four priests at the Redemptoris Mater Major Seminary, Karachi, and another four priests at St Francis Xavier Seminary, Lahore.
ACN announced a €5 million COVID-19 emergency fund in April. It recently approved grants providing emergency aid to more than 20,000 families in Syria.