Pakistan: archbishop calls for arrest of Qur'an burning pastor

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha

The leader of the Catholic Church in Pakistan has called for the arrest of the US pastor whose decision to burn the Qur'an triggered protests climaxing with the deaths of at least 24 people in Afghanistan.

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore condemned the desecration of the Qur'an carried out by Pastor Wayne Sapp under the supervision of Pastor Terry Jones.

Since the Qur'an burning took place at the Dove World Outreach Centre in Florida on 20th March, protests have been held in many parts of the Muslim world.

In Afghanistan, an attack on a UN base on Friday, 1st April in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif killed 14 people, seven of them US staff, and the next day at least 10 people were killed in the southern city of Kandahar.

Meanwhile, protests have taken place across Pakistan and the Qur'an burning has been linked to attacks on three churches across the country, which is home to 2.5 million Christians.

Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need from Lahore, Archbishop Saldanha said: “The US government should detain the pastor for some time.

“In view of the effects his actions have had all over the world, he should be controlled and understand the harm that has been done.”

Archbishop Saldanha, who is president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Lahore, went on: “The US government talks about religious freedom – but we call upon the US government to prevent such actions by extremists and other fundamentalist Christians.”

Archbishop Saldanha questioned reports from Pakistan linking unrest sparked by the Qur'an burning to recent attacks on three churches but stressed the strength of feeling expressed by Muslims who have protested across the country.

Amid indications of growing Muslim anger on the issue, he said: “Although there have not been any reactions against Christians, it could become ugly.”

In a statement on Saturday, 2nd April, President Barack Obama gave his reaction to the Qur'an burning and the deaths in Afghanistan.

He declared: “The desecration of any holy text, including the Qur'an, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous and an affront to human decency and dignity.”

Meantime, in recent months churches in Pakistan have put in place extra security measures including armed guards, concrete blocks, security cameras, sand bags. Security checks are carried out on people entering churches for services.

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