Lahore's Christians on hunger strike over church repossession

Lahore , Pakistan - Christians in Lahore had gone on a hunger strike in a bid to reposes the more than 100 years old St Andrews Church which has reportedly been given by the Pakistan Railways to build a school.

Protestors have said that the local school, which inhabits the church, is "violating its sanctity".

Committee members further said that though a school was a seat of learning, it was nevertheless a desecration of a holy place of worship.

Originally built in 1899 by the British for Christian rail employees, the St Andrews Church was taken over by the Presbyterian Church, which used it as a place of worship till 1986. However, with the lapse in service, railway authorities sealed the church's main entrance and linked it with the Pakistan Railways' St Andrews High School, later leasing out the school to the Beacon House School System in 2001.

But now, after all these years, Christians are battling for the repossession of the Church, adding that they are ready to bear the church's maintenance costs

"This is a desecration of the church. Today we went inside the church and prayed there for a while. We want it back. We are ready to bear the cost of its maintenance," the Daily Times quoted Yousaf Gill, a member of the committee as saying.

Rev Javed Gill, moderator of the Lahore Presbytery and also the chairman of the restoration committee, said that the committee had approached Pakistan Railways to hand over the building to the church committee so it could be renovated and used for worship.

"We want to maintain the sanctity of our church. We are not claiming the property. But we have our church on it," he said, adding that Articles 20, 21 and 22 of the Pakistani Constitution guaranteed every citizen the right to believe, practise and propagate their religion and every religious denomination and sect had the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Railway authorities have said that they have forwarded the matter to higher authorities, adding they would deal with the issue.

"I have sent their demands to the headquarters this morning. The headquarters will deal with the issue. I have done my part by forwarding the report," Shafqat Rabbani, divisional superintendent, Pakistan Railways was quoted as saying.