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Tight security for Archbishop Welby in Pakistan

30 May 2014

LAMBETH PALACE

Warm welcome: Archbishop Welby with bishops of the Church of Pakistan

Warm welcome: Archbishop Welby with bishops of the Church of Pakistan

THE threat facing minorities in Pakistan was laid bare on Monday, the day of the Archbishop of Canterbury's arrival in the country, when an American doctor was shot dead in the Punjab province.

Mehdi Ali, a volunteer cardiologist born in Pakistan, was a member of the minority Ahmadi community, which faces persecution in the country.

Security is tight for Archbishop Welby's visit to the country. On Tuesday, he met the diocesan bishops of the Church of Pakistan, the Governor of Punjab, and leaders from a range of faith communities.

Michael Binyon, a journalist from The Times who was invited to join the trip, said that the Archbishop would "promise global support from the Anglican Communion in fighting discrimination and resisting persecution. At the same time he will try to promote reconciliation among Pakistan's Anglicans, who in recent years have been riven by court cases over property and sales of church land (News, 2 November 2006)."

On Wednesday, the Revd Rana Youab Khan, Assistant Curate of St Anselm's, Belmont, in London diocese, who grew up in Pakistan, said that security was a "big concern" for the country's Christians: "A big number have moved to Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia," he said. He highlighted the case of Mr Ali as an example of the threats faced by religious minorities.

The Archbishop's visit would encourage Christians in Pakistan, said Mr Khan, who co-leads the Connecting Communities project, which encourages Pakistanis in the UK to use their influence to promote peace and reconciliation in Pakistan (News, 11 October).

"In spite of all the threats, extremism and terrorism, and all the problems that the whole country is facing, the Church is growing," he said. "The Archbishop's priorities of prayer, evangelism and reconciliation are very important for the Church of Pakistan, and it needs support and guidance for reconcilation with people of other faiths."

Christians make up less than five per cent of the population in Pakistan. They face discrimination and violence, particularly in association with accusations of blasphemy. On Tuesday, the court hearing concerning Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who has been sentenced to death after being charged with blasphemy, was again postponed (News, 9 May).

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