A ‘bulletproof’ cross rises in Karachi
KARACHI, PAKISTAN — Pakistani businessman Parvez Henry Gill says he was sleeping when God crashed into one of his dreams and gave him a job: find a way to protect Christians in Pakistan from violence and abuse. “I want you to do something different,” God told him.
That was four years ago, and Gill, a lifelong devout Christian, struggled for months with how to respond. Eventually, after more restless nights and more prayers, he awoke one morning with his answer: He would build one of the world’s largest crosses in one of the world’s most unlikely places.
“I said, ‘I am going to build a big cross, higher than any in the world, in a Muslim country,’ ” said Gill, 58. “It will be a symbol of God, and everybody who sees this will be worry-free.”
Now, in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, in the heart of a city where Islamist extremists control pockets of some neighborhoods, the 14-story cross is nearly complete.
It is being built at the entrance to Karachi’s largest Christian cemetery, towering over thousands of tombstones that are often vandalized. Once his cross looms over such acts of disrespect, Gill said, he hopes it can convince the members of Pakistan’s persecuted Christian minority that someday their lives will get better.
“I want Christian people to see it and decide to stay here,” said Gill, who started the project about a year ago.
The cross, in southern Karachi, is 140 feet tall — higher than most office buildings in downtown Washington — and includes a 42-foot crosspiece. It isn’t the world’s tallest; that distinction is claimed by the Great Cross in St. Augustine, Fla., which is about 208 feet tall, although the Millennium Cross in Macedonia is said to tower217 feet above ground. Crosses approaching 200 feet also have been constructed in Illinois, Louisiana and Texas.
But Gill says his cross at the Gora Qabristan Cemetery, which dates to the British colonial era, will be the largest in Asia.
The structure certainly will stand out in Pakistan, where Muslims account for more than 90 percent of the population. Christians make up just 1.5 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people, according to the country’s last census. Christian leaders, who accuse the government of a deliberate undercount, say a more accurate figure is about 5.5 percent.