Christian Pakistani businessman Parvez Henry Gill is building a 140-foot "bulletproof" cross in the middle of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Following dreams in which Gill claims to have encountered God, he decided to build Asia’s largest cross in the 90 percent Muslim country.
Islamist extremists control portions of neighborhoods in Karachi, in a country with just a 1.5 percent Christian population, though Christian leaders accuse the government of undercounting them and claim that the figure is closer to 5.5 percent.
The cross is being erected at the Gora Qabristan Cemetery, a Christian cemetery that is frequently the target of vandals. The signs of desecration and abuse are obvious there, where Gill recently pointed out a broken statue of the Virgin Mary. Residents of an encroaching settlement live in buildings covering old graves, and they frequently throw trash in the graveyard.
Gill called the cross “bulletproof,” saying that it stands on a 20-foot underground base and that it’s made of “tons and tons of steel, iron and cement.”
“If anyone tries to hit this cross, they will not succeed," Gill told the Washington Post.
The Christian minority in Pakistan often faces violence and persecution. In 2013, more than 100 were killed in a suicide bombing at a church. Mobs have also gained media attention in the last few years for burning couples and children due to religious differences. Often living in slums and working menial jobs, Christians in Pakistan are also targets of Pakistan’s Islam-influenced blasphemy laws, The Washington Post reports. These laws aim to prosecute people who insult the Muslim prophet Muhammad in any way, and are punishable by death.
In Karachi, where there are roughly one million Christians, Gill says his cross will “be a symbol of God, and everybody who sees this will be worry-free.” He said he wants to encourage Christians to stay in Pakistan.
Gill kept the nature of the structure a secret until it became obvious. When it did, 20 Muslims quit construction in protest, but at least one stayed. The Muslim worker, Mohammad Ali, says the cross is a “work of God.” He is volunteering 14 hours a day, seven days a week, citing Gill’s support of his family as a reason for his loyalty, Christian Examiner reports.
When the cross is polished and a lighting system is installed, Gill wants to hold a celebration. He says he wants to invite Pope Francis, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Queen Elizabeth II, and Hillary Clinton.