WINDSOR TERRACE — James Cyprian lives in Brooklyn, but his mind is often thousands of miles away in his native Pakistan — worrying about his two adult children’s safety.
“They are always on my mind. I have a son and a daughter. My daughter is married with two children. Life is hard for Christians in Pakistan,” said Cyprian, secretary-general of the Brooklyn-based Pakistani Christian Association of USA.
Christians are a minority in predominantly-Muslim Pakistan, accounting for just 2 percent of the country’s 212 million people.
Cyprian and other PCA members in the Diocese of Brooklyn have held demonstrations to raise awareness of persecution against Catholics and other Christians in Pakistan. The atrocities include throwing Christians in jail on bogus charges of blasphemy against Islam and kidnappings of teenage girls who are forced to marry their captors and convert to Islam.
International Christian Concern, a watchdog group, documented 80 anti-Catholic incidents in Pakistan during the first six months of 2020. The group Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan estimates that each year, 1,000 females are abducted. In 2018, the Trump Administration named Pakistan a “Country of Particular Concern,” a designation reserved for nations the U.S. believes have poor records on human rights.
The situation in Pakistan is more than a political issue for PCA members. It is personal.
Cyprian, a journalist who immigrated to the U.S. in 2009 and became an American citizen in 2016, said he had first-hand experience with anti-Christian sentiments.
“I was a journalist over there for 40 years,” he said. He lived in Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a region near the Pakistan-Iraq border. “I was the only Christian journalist in that area. It was not easy, I can tell you,” he said.
Cyprian recently obtained permission from the U.S. government to bring his son, daughter, and daughter’s husband and children here to live. “My wife and I are very relieved. We are hoping they can come here soon, and we can all spend Christmas together,” he said.
Carol Noreen, who spent 16 years as a school principal in Pakistan before coming to the U.S. five years ago, deeply feels the plight of Christians. “I don’t sleep well at night,” she told The Tablet. “There is so much going on in Pakistan.”
Noreen closely follows blasphemy and kidnapping cases and regularly posts updates on her Facebook page.
It’s not just Christians who suffer. Hindus are also the targets of discrimination in Pakistan, according to Vajeesh Partab, a former resident of that country who came to the U.S. two years ago and lives in New York. “I lived in fear when I was there. I feel safe here in the U.S., but my family is still there, so I worry,” he said.
While protest demonstrations send a message, activists said their case would be much stronger if the U.S.government adopted a tougher stance against Pakistan.
“Our government told the Pakistani government we would sell them F-16s only if they did something to stop the persecution of Christians. They didn’t stop the persecution. And we still sold them the F-16s. That is not helping,” PCA Chairman William Shahzad told The Tablet.
Persecuted Christians in Pakistan feel isolated, according to Cyprian, who said news of relief efforts taking place here in the U.S. doesn’t always reach them. “They feel forgotten,” he said.
Christians living in Pakistan communicate with family abroad, but they do so carefully and often in coded language, activists here said.
One PCA member who requested anonymity said he is so concerned about family and friends in Pakistan that he deliberately avoids contacting them too often. That might seem counter-intuitive, but he explained that frequent contact with people in the U.S. could get Pakistanis in trouble. “The government knows who the Christian activists are,” he told The Tablet.
Noreen said she does think about the possibility of retaliation against Christians in Pakistan due to protests here. It won’t stop her from speaking out.
The atrocities are so numerous that Pakistani Christians here in the U.S. cannot sit idly by and watch from afar, she said — “Enough is enough.”