2009-10-02 15:32:03

Religious discrimination must be stopped, Pope tells Pakistani president

(October 2, 2009) Pope Benedict XVI told Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, that all forms of religious discrimination must be overcome. Zardari paid a private visit to the Holy Father on Thursday at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. Later, he held talks at the Vatican with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States. The Vatican’s Press Office released a brief statement after the meeting saying, “The cordial discussions provided an opportunity to examine the current situation in Pakistan, with particular reference to the fight against terrorism and the commitment to create a society more tolerant and harmonious in all its aspects." The pope and Vatican officials touched on the problem of violence against Christian communities in some parts of Pakistan "and the elements that have favoured such serious incidents.” The statement said "emphasis was given to the need to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation, with the aim of promoting respect for all citizens." Violence against Christians in Pakistan reached new heights over the summer when 10 Catholics were killed in rioting in the Punjab province. The deaths came when a Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches. The attacks on Christians in recent years have prompted Catholic leaders to call for constitutional amendments to protect religious minorities. Strict blasphemy laws in Pakistan make insulting the Quran, the sacred book of Islam, an offence punishable by life imprisonment, while conviction on a charge of insulting the Prophet Mohammed brings an automatic death sentence. Church leaders have said the laws are being abused for personal gain and to stoke sectarian hatred. According to the Catholic church’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, NCJP, at least 964 people have been charged under the blasphemy law since it went into effect in 1986. 479 of them were Muslims. Christians come next with 119.

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