Catholics in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province, are rejoicing over their government's recent decision to return a more than century-old school to the archdiocese. “Thanks be to God our Father who is loving and all-compassionate as we welcome the government decision in returning back St. Francis High School to the Archdiocese of Lahore after 30 long years,” Fr. Andrew Nisari, parish priest of Mary Immaculate Church in Lahore's Anarkali neighborhood, told CNA Nov. 6. “Thank you all for your struggle with us to get our St. Francis High School, Anarkali, back to the Archdiocese of Lahore,” Fr. Nisari continued. “Our supporters in this campaign prayed, stood with us in the heat of June, protesting and demanding our school back from the government.” Fr. Nisari emphasized that “we will bring this school to such a standard that will produce a bright future of our country. All children without any distinction are welcome to benefit from this institution.” St. Francis High School was founded in 1842, but was taken over by the Pakistani government in 1972 as part of president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's policy of nationalization. Bhutto's policy seized control of all schools, colleges, and hospitals held by Christians in the country. In addition to the seizure of educational institutions, Bhutto nationalized banks, and industries such as steel, chemicals, cement, and agricultural mills. The nationalization policy led to lapses in infrastructure updates due to bureaucratic policies and corruption, and educational standards fell; the GDP growth rate fell by a point after nationalization was implemented. In 2004, president Pervez Musharraf ordered a conditional privatization of minority educational institutions. As a result, 16 of the Archdiocese of Lahore's schools were returned to its control, with only St. Francis remaining as a government-run institution. Since 2004, the archdiocese has appealed to multiple governmental departments, the courts, and to the United Nations to regain control over the school. The archdiocese insisted in their petition in the beginning of 2014 that the rightful title and management of schools be returned to the owners in the equitable interest of the nation's development. The petition also noted that with the illegal occupation, the Pakistani government owes the archdiocese rent for the building for the last 10 years, while the archdiocese had paid six months advance salary for its staff, satisfying the conditions of Musharraf's 2004 push for privatization. “We are extremely happy that the school is returned back to the archdiocese to ignite minds and tap talents with innovation and excellence,” Asif Nazir, a Catholic teacher, told CNA. “We see a great hope in the future generation where education with ethics and morals will help in creating a peaceful and harmonious society, which is a need of the hour in the country,” he added. Fr. Nisari added that “we will demolish the ruins of the school building, and erect a new one.” The return of her schools and hospitals will allow the Church in Pakistan to continue to build up and strengthen the nation.
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