Catholic Priest Murdered in
Homicide Linked to Restoration of Former Parish School
by Barbara G. Baker ISTANBUL, July 7 (Compass) -- Six gunmen shot and killed a Roman Catholic priest in his home in eastern Pakistan in the early hours of July 5, according to church and police authorities. Father George Ibrahim, 38, was gunned down about 1 a.m. while sleeping in his home near Okara, 180 miles south of Islamabad in the Punjab province. The night watchman of the Renala Khurd Catholic Church told police investigating the crime that six unidentified men overpowered him shortly after midnight, threatening to kill him if he resisted or sounded any alarm. After shooting the priest, the assailants all escaped. There have been no reported arrests or claims of responsibility. According to Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lahore Lawrence J. Saldanha, "the main motive" for the priest's murder appeared to be linked to the government's decision last fall to return ownership of a former church school to Fr. Ibrahim's Catholic parish. Initially founded and run by Catholic sisters, the parish school had been returned to the church last October after 30 years under state management. "But the process of getting it back was very, very difficult," Saldanha told Compass by telephone from Lahore. Pakistan's minority Christian community had been stripped of its Urdu-language private schools in the Punjab and Sindh provinces in 1972, when the government nationalized the institutions without compensation and imposed state management. But after the Supreme Court declared the forced nationalization unconstitutional 20 years later, private school owners began to file for court restoration of their former institutions. Government-hired administrators and teachers of these schools have actively resisted Islamabad's orders to return the institutions to church control, protesting the anticipated loss of their jobs. "They weren't acting on behalf of the government, because the government was trying to get them out," Saldanha said. "But they were using very influential ways to remain in control." According to Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Catholic Church's National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), both the former headmistress of the expropriated Renala Khurd school and officials of the local education department had refused to cooperate in the government-ordered transfer. The archbishop said he was not aware of any direct death threats made against the priest. "But in a general sense, he felt insecure, he felt unsafe," he admitted. Saldanha denied police claims reported in the Pakistani press that the church watchman had been injured in the attack. "The watchman was not wounded. They left him alone, and they went only for the priest," he said. Allegations that the priest himself had "opened fire on the intruders" were also unfounded, he said. "The Christian community feels deeply disturbed at this cold-blooded attack on a priest who had devoted his life to the selfless service of the poor and downtrodden," Saldanha declared in a written statement to the press on July 5. Fr. Ibrahim was buried yesterday in his home village of Khushpur. Memorial services planned for him there will be held on July 10, which would have been the priest's 39th birthday.
Return to Project Open Book