November 30, 2011 - Groveland Twp.- Father Shafique Hadyat will celebrate Christmas this year at Mt. Thabor Monastery here in the township.
Father Shafique Hadyat (far right) speaks following the Gojra incident, in which 150 homes were also burned. (click for larger version)
He will be part of the majority in the United States this year in celebrating the holiday. Usually, he is among the minority— in his homeland of Pakistan, 98 percent of his countrymen are Muslim. Christians, he said, comprise 2 percent of the population and are considered third-class citizens and called infidels.
Although his location has changed and his beliefs are more widely accepted here, as Hadyat rejoices over the birth of Christ this season, his prayers remain the same—peace for all people, worldwide.
"Suffering shall come into our life, but we shall not lose," said Hadyat, who is serving as chaplain to the nuns at Mt. Thabor. "There is hope for all things. We should be able to grow taller in spirit and able to respect each other to bring peace and harmony in our own country wherever we are."
Hadyat is well-acquainted with suffering, but his faith is unwavering.
His family converted to Christianity from Hinduism in the late 1800s. Hadyat was ordained as a Catholic priest Sept. 3, 1993 in Pakistan. For the past 20-25 years, he said, Christians have endured increasing persecution from Islamic militants. In 2009, he witnessed firsthand death and devastation in his own parish, wrought by terrorists in what is known as the Gojra Incident or Gojra Massacre.
As Hadyat recounts it, children unknowingly were playing with newspapers on which verses of the Quran (the Muslim holy book) were printed. Muslim men in the community were angered and spread the news through the mosques. Under blasphemy law, these men deemed punishment as death. On July 30, 2009, and then again on Aug. 1, 2009 a group of these terrorists attacked the village of Korian and the colony of Gojra. In total, Hadyat said nine people were burned to death and 150 Christian homes were burned to the ground, as well as several Protestant churches in the Sacred Heart Parish.
"I wondered what our destiny in Pakistan was," said Hadyat, who was in the United Kingdom at the time of the incident and returned home immediately.
Hadyat was appointed by the Pakistani government to oversee the rebuilding of homes. He did so over the course of several months, with money given to his parish from the government.
"Materially, we can do things, but spiritually, we have to work for a long time," Hadyat said. "People are in a state of shock."
Homeless families were given food and stayed with relatives, or under tents provided by the government as new brick homes were constructed with the help of all the members of the diocese, and members of the community, both Protestant and Catholic.
"It was not a duty as a priest, but I look at it as service to the community," Hadyat said. "I want to help them and be with them in their sorrows and difficulties. Protestant and Catholic—we are together, not divided. We are one. All suffering is the same, so you have to be one together. We had prayer services in the streets to build up spirits. We were trying to help heal the wounded. I think they became more strong in faith. I was very much encouraged."
Hadyat is still waiting for justice to be done. Some of the suspects were caught, but within the year, they were out on bail. According to news reports, 70 suspects were acquitted this past June after five witnesses left the country. More than 180 written witness statements were received during the initial inquiry.
Hadyat, who had been parish priest at Sacred Heart since 2001, left the parish for St. Paul Catholic Church in Fasialabad after the rebuilding of homes in Gorja and Korian was completed.
"It was too much for me to stay," he said. "The Muslims had ill feelings toward me because of the help we got for our Christian brothers. I thought it was better to be away from the situation."
He served at St. Paul for a year, then came to Mt. Thabor for spiritual renewal in August and doesn't know how long he will stay here in the township. He stays in contact with the Sacred Heart Parish and says things are calm right now in Gorja.
"I am encouraged by the atmosphere reflecting with my Dominican sisters (at Mt. Thabor)," said Hadyat. "I wish to still serve my community in Pakistan…The barrier we have among ourselves will finish when we accept each other. I don't know when that will be. In the Book of Revelation, we have hope of a new vision and a new heaven and earth. We are looking for the peace in Pakistan."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville