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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Asia Bibi’s family and Archbishop of Basra ask for prayers from the Catholics of the Diocese of Shrewsbury

 

Prominent Catholics from persecuted Churches in Pakistan and Iraq have visited the Diocese of Shrewsbury to ask for prayers to end their sufferings.

Chaldean Archbishop Habib Nafali Jajou of Basra, in the south of Iraq, and Dominican Sister Luma Khudher (pictured below left), who works with Christian families in the Nineveh Plain in the north of the country, visited Shrewsbury and Chester as guests of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity serving persecuted Christians.

They were joined by Ashiq Masih and Eisham Ashiq (pictured above), the huband and 18-year-old daughter of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani mother-of-five who has been on death row since she was sentenced to hang for allegedly insulting Mohammad, the founder of Islam.

Each the parties pleaded for prayers for the establishment justice and peace in their countries – and the Pakistanis requested prayers especially for the swift release of Asia.

They spoke to audiences in the Diocese as a special bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court prepared to meet in Islamabad to hear the final appeal of Asia.

On Monday, the court reached a verdict on the case but publication has been deferred until a later unspecified date.

Speaking in Chester, Asia’s husband said: “Remember us in your prayers and support us as much as you can so that Asia Bibi can be released very soon.”

“She is spending her life praying with a very strong faith and is reading the Bible every day. She feels when she is praying, Jesus is encouraging and supporting her,” he added. “She is willing to die for Christ.”

He said her family were convinced, however, that prayers of Christians around the world will secure her freedom, and then they would go into exile because it was too dangerous for them to remain in Pakistan.

Asia has been held in solitary confinement since November 2010,when she was convicted of blasphemy.

A farmhand, she was accused of blasphemy following a dispute with Muslim colleagues who had objected to her drinking from a common water supply because she is a Christian. She has always denied the allegation.

So far, no-one has been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan and if Asia loses her appeal she could become the first person to hang for the offence, pending a final plea for clemency from Imran Khan, the President.

Fr Emmanuel Yousaf, national director of Pakistan’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, who accompanied the family to the UK, said the family was praying continuously for Asia’s acquittal and invited British Catholics to unite their prayers with their own.

Islamic militants have been vocal in demanding the death penalty for Asia and have murdered politicians who have championed her cause.

These include the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated in January 2011 after he said he would fight for her freedom.

Two months later, Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was gunned down after he said he wanted the blasphemy laws reformed to stop them being misused to persecute innocent Christians.

Pope Benedict XVI publicly called for Asia’s release and in February Pope Francis received Ashiq and Eisham at the Vatican, while the Coliseum was bathed in red light to highlight the suffering of contemporary martyrs.

Catholics in the Shrewsbury Diocese also heard the testimonies of the Iraqi delegation, who pleaded for prayers for Christians suffering persecution not only in their own country but all over the world.

 

 

Speaking at St Columba’s Church, Chester, Archbishop Habib said that the situation of the Church had deteriorated so gravely in Iraq in the last 15 year that “another wave of persecution will be the end of Christianity after 2,000 years”.

The archbishop said he believed that Christians, who have been present in the region since the time of the Apostles, were victims of genocide at the hands of Islamic militants, with “systematic violence” exerted to destroy their language and culture and force them from their homelands.

He said that on average one church or monastery has been blown up or burned down in Iraq every 40 days in the decade following the 2003 invasion by US and British coalition forces.

The number of Christians has plunged from 1.5 million to just 250,000 in the last 15 years, said Archbishop Habib.

 

(Photos by Simon Caldwell)