- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2001

QUETTA, Pakistan Jammed into their unmarked old chapel, the small but fervent congregation of Sacred Heart Catholic Church prayed for America to defeat terror without creating Christian martyrs.

Since Sept. 11, Pakistani Christians say, hostility has tainted a longtime tolerance. Many say close Muslim friends now keep their distance, and many fear the worst if any fighting starts over the border.

"Every day, we hear threats from Muslims," said a high school teacher who pleaded to be identified only as Anwar. "Sometimes, we don't sleep. We are terrified that if they attack Afghanistan, we may be killed."

Sabir Yaqoob, 28, a physics teacher at a different high school, said he believed President Bush unleashed fury with an early reference to a "crusade," which the White House later insisted was not meant to imply a religious war against Islam.

The White House said Mr. Bush used the term in the sense of a "broad cause" and meant no offense.

"He said it, and that's enough," Mr. Yaqoob said Sunday. "It is what the fundamentalists heard. Crusade means a clash between Muslims and Christians, and that is what we are all afraid of."

His friend Moussa Sadiq, 35, a phone company employee, broke in.

"Our old friends who used to eat with us, sit together morning and evening, they tell us they will attack us if there is fighting," he said. "They will be the first to kill us."

Sacred Heart is one of two Catholic churches in Quetta. There is also an Anglican church. Christians officially number 4 million in Pakistan, 3 percent of the population. Church groups say the total may be 8 million.

Although a heavy majority of Christians are in Punjab and Sindh, farther from Afghanistan and where feelings run cooler, the fear seems widespread.

Mr. Yaqoob said he was surprised, and worried, at the sudden rise in tension. As a physics teacher, he knows all about the laws of action and reaction.

"We have always gotten along in Pakistan," he said. "When I got married, Muslim friends came here to this same church. But once this thing starts to spread, who knows how it goes?"

If nothing triggers a violent outbreak, Mr. Yaqoob added, the tension might pass.

"I think 75 percent of Pakistanis hate terrorism and are against accused mastermind Osama bin Laden," he said. "Only 20 percent, maybe, are fundamentalists. It is always the negative which makes the most noise."

But, he added, any confrontation likely would polarize the two religions, with extremists using the occasion to rally support among the poorly educated masses.

For now, there is nothing close to panic, and opinions vary as to potential danger.

Lal Masih, at 70, might have fallen out of a Rudyard Kipling novel, with an enormous white mustache billowing out from under thick round glasses and a colorful skullcap.

Asked if he was worried, he smiled and pointed a forefinger heavenward.

Harrison John, the son of a church official, is 13, but looks younger. He grinned and declared himself unafraid.

But S.M. Shafiq and Faved Hadayet, lab technicians, shared a different view. They heard continual threats. Neither had encountered any problems. But, both said, things might change in an instant.

"If America bombs Afghanistan," Mr. Shafiq said, "anything could happen."

Sacred Heart is reached behind a wooden gate with no sign on Jinnah Road in the center of Quetta. About 100 people can fit inside the simple church with a game attempt at vaulted ceilings.

Mass follows classic lines, but is decidedly Pakistani. Lively hymns are accompanied by an accordion and bongo drums.

The faithful who line up for Holy Communion look no different from their Muslim countrymen. Women in modest head scarves stay to one side. Men wear knee-length loose shirts, baggy pants and sandals.

The Rev. Eric Lakman, a Sri Lankan who is the priest at Sacred Heart, dates Catholicism in the Indian subcontinent back to the sixth century. He said the religion flourished from the time of St. Matthew.

Under the British Raj, which lasted until 1947, Anglican congregations also grew.

In recent years, Father Lakman said, Muslims and Christians have lived peacefully together in Pakistan. Today, however, he sees something new.

"Oh, definitely," he said, when asked if he felt extremists might attack Christians. "If they attack, we'll be among the first martyrs."

With a nervous laugh, he added: "But we will not run anywhere."

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