The Catholic Church in Pakistan has condemned the act and says it stands in solidarity with Muslims, calling on Sweden to ensure respect for all religions in society, as the Pakistani Government expressed concern for the security of Church buildings in the country.
Christian organisations all over the world have condemned the desecration of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, by a self-professed Iraqi atheist refugee in Sweden. Even Pope Francis weighed in on the issue, saying that “any book considered sacred by its believers must be respected”.
The incident took place on 28 June, outside the main mosque in Stockholm, as Muslims celebrated the important feast of Eid al-Adha. Muslims all over the world took to the streets to protest, levelling their criticism at the Swedish government for having allowed the protest to go ahead.
As has happened with previous incidents, the offense against Muslims in a European country ends up having serious repercussions for Christian communities in Muslim-majority countries.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit to its international headquarters in Germany, Bishop Yousaf Sohan of the Diocese of Multan, in Pakistan, who is also the Chairman of the Catholic Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue and Ecumenism, explained that the Government had demanded that churches and Church buildings, including schools, increase security measures for protection.
“The country is divided into zones, according to security levels. Multan diocese is in a red zone. We have several church buildings that are closed at the moment because they do not meet the security requirements demanded by the Government in this situation”, he explained.
For now, said Bishop Sohan, there has been no more than verbal criticism and threats on social media, but the Church regrets that the careless and disrespectful act of one man living in the safety of Sweden can have such a negative effect for Christians in a country where desecration of the Quran can lead to life in prison.
“We pray for peace. These incidents should not happen, because they cause great disturbances for our people. We should respect each other’s rights and humanity, regardless of their religion. Being an already very poor country, with a difficult situation for Christians, these incidents lead to greater security risks”, he says.
Heightened security demands present a new challenge to a Church already facing financial difficulties, since most Christians in Pakistan are very poor. ACN is actively trying to find solutions to help the local Church overcome this difficulty.
The Catholic Church in Pakistan has already published a statement, through the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NJCP), “strongly condemning” the incident in Stockholm. The NCJP termed the affair a “blatant provocation, disrespectful, and an act of racism and intolerance. While expressing solidarity with Muslim brethren it calls upon the Swedish government to take concrete steps to ensure the prevalence of respect for all religions in society”, it said.
ACN gave funding for 105 projects in 2022 in Pakistan, including construction and renovation of church facilities, faith formation of laity and means of transport for pastoral care. The foundation has also increased its support to interreligious dialogue projects. Pakistan was also one of the countries highlighted in the recently published Religious Freedom Report.