By Jo Clifford (From Seeds February – March 2023)
Jo Clifford has been in Karachi, Pakistan, for a production in Urdu of her play Light in the Village. While there, she met Pastor Rafique.
There’s a garden at the entrance to Holy Trinity Cathedral, Karachi: one of the few peaceful and pleasant green places in this troubled and squalid city.
Armed guards stand at the compound entrance. Every building has its armed guard. But they’re particularly needed here because not so long ago someone threw a bomb over the cathedral gate.
Pastor Ghazala Rafique and her family live in a modest house just inside the compound; and just by her front door transgender women and men gather to worship on Fridays. They meet there because the pastor’s clerical superiors do not allow us to worship in the cathedral itself.
They are also planning to sell the patch of land on which her house, and our sanctuary, stands. Trying to stop the sale of the land is one of the many battles the pastor is fighting; along with rescuing young Christian girls when they are kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists and forced into marriage and conversion to Islam. She also very publicly speaks out for women’s rights.
All this, and above all her very public support for transgender people, lays her open to accusations of blasphemy and puts her life at risk.
When I meet her, I am struck both by the extraordinary pressure and danger that surrounds her; but more by her serenity and grace. There’s an extraordinary calm to her; no trace of hatred; the powerful energy of love.
We meet and we talk, and then she rushes inside to put on her vestments. She wants to be photographed wearing them: because they represent the sacredness of the work she is doing. ‘This is the work I am called to do’, she says, very simply, ‘and God protects me.’