EWTN program spotlights church response to Christian persecution in Pakistan

| By Michelle Laque Johnson? | November 5, 2010 | 1 Comment

“We know that Iraqi Christians are having serious problems, but until four or five years ago, only EWTN and I were speaking about Iraqi Christians.”

So says courageous Italian filmmaker Elisabetta Valgiusti, who traveled to Iraq at great personal risk to film two series on Christian persecution in Iraq for EWTN. Now, in her brand new film, “Pakistan’s Christians,” Valgiusti turns her attention to the small and embattled Christian community in Pakistan.

“Pakistan’s Christians” airs 9 p.m., Nov. 10 and 4 a.m., Nov. 13 (central time). Check local listings to confirm dates and times.

The plight of this Middle Eastern country’s Christians, most of whom are Catholic, first caught Valgiusti’s attention last year, when she learned a Christian family had been killed in a bombing in the Pakistani village of Gojra. So, when she chanced to encounter some Dominican priests from Pakistan in Rome, she set up a small conference for them to speak about their experiences. What she learned horrified her.

“The load for Pakistan’s Christians is becoming very heavy,” she said. “[Under the blasphemy laws], you can be accused of doing something against the Quran — speaking out against the Quran, burning a page from the Quran — and you’ll find yourself in prison in a minute. The penalty for that is death.”

False accusations are common, Valgiusti said. Anyone can make an accusation and it is taken seriously. Because the criminal code is “very complicated” and trials are often rife with “bad mistakes,” the filmmaker says that even those who are falsely accused often stay in prison for years.

Being released after such an accusation can also pose problems.?“Three months ago, there were people released by the court who were killed [when they walked] outside,” Valgiusti said. “People are scared.”

Fortunately, there are some bright spots. “The head of the Pakistani Commission for Human Rights is speaking out, saying that minorities should be protected; they shouldn’t be attacked or executed,” she said.

Valgiusti says educated Muslims understand that the country’s blasphemy laws can be used to persecute anyone. “Now it’s happening with Muslims,” she said. “If you have an enemy, he can accuse you of blasphemy.”

How can this cycle of violence be stopped? Valgiusti was inspired by the priests and nuns working to change things in this country — and across the Middle East and India (the latter of which is the subject of her next film which will air on EWTN in December).

“Pakistan’s Christians” showcases the work of Caritas Pakistan and its executive director, Father Emmanuel Yousaf, who has been a “hero” to those ravaged by the recent floods in Pakistan — Christian and Muslim alike.

She also features The Sisters of Jesus and Mary, an international order, which runs one of the best schools in Pakistan. The school is so good that Muslims enroll their own children, which means Christians and Muslims work, play and study side by side — a sure antidote to religious discrimination.

Valgiusti is especially interested in how Christians mange to live their faith under such onerous conditions. She was stunned by the fervor Christians demonstrate both at Mass and when praying in the local churches, and she is charmed by the beautiful hymns they sing.

The goal of Valgiusti’s filmmaking is to bring the attention of the world to these isolated minorities. When they stay in their own countries, Christians often face prison or death. When they flee, they face prohibitions against employment. That leaves them in a no-win situation. Valgiusti said she hopes her films inspire Catholics to reach out to their brothers and sisters who literally have nowhere to go.

Said Valgiusti: “I hope to see an end to the bad stories I have seen in Iraq and in Pakistan. I want to give Catholics a chance to know [about this], a chance to help.”??Michelle Laque Johnson is director of communications for EWTN Global Catholic Network.

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Category: Arts and Culture