PARKVILLE — A small but vocal group gathered on the steps of St. Rose of Lima Church, Parkville, July 16, to protest the latest wave of religious persecution in Pakistan.
About 60 people held a memorial rally for the late Nadeem Joseph, a Christian, who was killed after buying a house in a Muslim section of Peshawar in the state of Lahore, Pakistan.
The incident is the latest of an ongoing pattern of intolerant behavior towards non-Muslims in the Asian country.
Speakers representing local religious and civic groups joined members of the Pakistani Christian Association of USA (PKA) in denouncing the murder of Joseph and called for international action to cease the oppression against religious minorities.
Zeba Gill, president of Global Christian Voice, claimed “the Pakistani government, the judiciary, and the police are biased against us” and asked for the international community to “stand with us.”
About 96 percent of Pakistan’s population practices Islam. Christians are among the 3.6 percent minority.
The rally heard from Joseph’s widow, via telephone hook-up, who is hiding in Pakistan. She told how her husband, mother, and brother were victims of a shooting on June 4, after refusing to cower to constant threats to leave the neighborhood. Her husband underwent a number of surgeries over several weeks but died June 29 after his fifth operation. The others remain hospitalized in serious condition.
The killer, who remains at large, has been identified as Salmon Khan.
She said that prior to the shooting, the family was subjected to constant harassment — glue was applied to the locks of the house, garbage was strewn at the doorstep, and the children were told they could not ride their bikes in the street. They were also asked, “How could you buy a house here when you are not even allowed to walk in the streets?”
Tearfully, she thanked those assembled in Brooklyn for their support.
William Shahzad, a Catholic who is active in the Pakistani ministry, said that Joseph was told by his Muslim neighbors that “You can’t live here. You have got to get out in 24 hours.”
But he emphasized that “not all Muslims are the same.”
Shahzad explained that the local police, some of whom are Muslim, donated blood in an attempt to save Joseph’s life. He demanded that the government arrest the suspect and provide the justice that is part of the Pakistani constitution.
Many at the Brooklyn rally wore black armbands and held candles.
Pervaiz Iqbal, president of the PKA, said that discrimination on the basis of faith is unacceptable.
Many in the group held colorful banners, proclaiming “Stop the Persecution,” and “Minorities Lives Matter.”
Father Ilyas Gill, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, Kensington, and director of the diocesan ministry to Pakistani Catholics, said he celebrates Mass in Urdu every Sunday at his church for about 60 to 70 Pakistanis. He estimated that there are about 200 Catholic Pakistani families in Brooklyn and Queens, totaling about 600 to 700 people.
The rally, conducted mostly in Urdu, was being taped for broadcast by Pakistani cable stations in the U.S.