More than 5,000 of the poorest families in Pakistan are to receive food and other COVID-19 emergency aid, with help from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Orphans, widows and unemployed people are among those who will benefit from a grant approved on Thursday.
The ACN emergency aid package targets the most vulnerable people in the capital, Islamabad, as well as in Rawalpindi, and the dioceses of Lahore and Faisalabad.
Stressing that Pakistan's Christians are among the poorest and hardest hit by the lockdown, Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN International executive president, said: "The coronavirus and the lockdown have deprived them of their already meagre livelihoods and forced them to live through the crisis in extremely cramped and overcrowded conditions with a minimum of resources."
Noting that many Christians earn the lowest wages, working as day labourers, domestic servants, cleaners or kitchen staff, Dr Heine-Geldern said: "All these areas of employment are precisely the ones that have been most impacted by the economic shutdown.
"Many Christian employees have been dismissed without notice by families for whom they have worked for years, since these families are afraid that the poor may bring infection into their homes."
Amid reports that some NGOs in Pakistan have denied COVID-19 aid to Christians and other minorities, Dr Heine-Geldern said: "Religious discrimination is sadly nothing new in Pakistan.
"What is deeply concerning, however, is that, even during this global crisis, such minorities are being clearly disadvantaged."
In Faisalabad, the ACN emergency aid programme includes using radio and social media to raise-awareness of the risks of coronavirus and ways to protect against it. ACN described a plan to distribute face masks for the faithful in churches and equip priests, Sisters, catechists, diocesan staff and volunteers with personal protection equipment.
According to latest reports, Pakistan has 64,028 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 1,317 deaths. The densely populated Punjab Province and Sindh Province, in the south-east, are worst affected.
As part of its COVID-19 programme for Pakistan, ACN is providing Mass stipends for 70 priests in the Archdiocese of Lahore, four priests at the Redemptoris Mater Major Seminary, Karachi, and another four priests at St Francis Xavier Seminary, Lahore.
ACN announced at €5 million (£4.49m) COVID-19 emergency fund last month (April) and last week approved grants providing emergency aid to more than 20,000 families in Syria.
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