Six years ago religious mobs attacked the Christian community in the Pakistani city of Gojra, killing 10 people and burning their churches and homes to the ground. Today, Muslim farmers in the nearby village of Khaksabad are helping to build a church for their Christian neighbors.
It’s a significant display of peace and solidarity in a country where religious minorities often face persecution. But Ijaz Farooq, one of the Muslim villagers helping to build the chapel, said that is exactly why this is so important. Farooq told the BBC:
“After local riots we are trying to bring people together even more. We have increased our activity so we don’t have to face something like that. By building this church we want to show that we are united as a community.”
The eight Christian families in the village lost their mud chapel when it was washed away by monsoon rains in the area. They’ve since been meeting in homes and other sites for prayer and to observe holy days, but thanks to the generosity of their Muslim neighbors, they’ll soon have a new chapel of their own.
This interfaith unity is unique for Pakistan, as Christians and Muslims are forced to live segregated lives in many other parts of the country. In Khakasbad they live side by side.
“We are together in times of happiness and grief. I pray that we never have to go through what happened in Gojra ever,” Christian villager Faryal Masih told the BBC.
Unfortunately, that type of communal violence is not uncommon in Pakistan. In fact, Anadolu Agency reported that the day construction began on the church, dozens were killed—including many Christians celebrating Easter—in the provincial capital of Lahore in the bombing of a public park.
But as Father Aftab James, parish priest of St. Fidelis Church in Khushpur, put it, “If there are those that fuel the fire, there are also those who douse the flames.”