By Oge Okonkwo
In the recent wave of religious tensions sweeping across Pakistan, a Christian businessman in the country's largest city is building a giant 14-storey cross outside the entrance to the largest Christian cemetery in Karachi.
Parvez Henry Gill a devout Christian who lives in Karachi, spoke to Washington Post about his mission. He said that God had come to him in a dream one night four years ago and challenged him with the divine task of finding a way to relieve Pakistani Christians from the constant fear of persecution and abuse frequently perpetrated by Pakistan's radical Muslim community.
Gill says the construction of the giant cross is to encourage fellow Christians to stay in Pakistan despite the religious tensions in the country.
"I want you to do something different," Gill remembers God telling him.
According to Christian Post, Gill admitted that he wasn't quite sure what the best way to answer God's call was. After many sleepless nights, he awoke one morning with the realization that he needed to build a giant cross.
"I said, 'I am going to build a big cross, higher than any in the world, in a Muslim country,'" Gill asserted. "It will be a symbol of God, and everybody who sees this will be worry free."
Four years later, that giant cross is nearly complete, standing at the entrance to the Gora Qabaristan Cemetery in Karachi. With the cross measuring in at 140-feet tall, the cross bar is 42 feet in length.
Parts of Gora Qabaristan Cemetery, which dates back to the British colonial era, have been disrespectfully settled upon, and many of the headstones have suffered defacement by the Muslim community, which makes up about 96 percent of the Pakistani population.
Although many Pakistani Christians, who make up a little over 1 percent of the nation's population, have been killed, beaten, burned, wrongfully jailed and treated like second-class citizens, Gill hopes that Christians around Karachi will see the cross as a positive sign that Christianity can exist there.
"I want Christian people to see it and decide to stay here," Gill explained.
Considering the Muslim community in Karachi will have objections to the huge, noticeable symbol of Christianity and will likely attempt to tear it down, Gill said destroying the cross will not be easy because it's "bulletproof" and sits on a 20-foot underground base.
"Tons and tons of Iron, steel and cement," Gill stated. "If anyone tries to hit this cross, they will not succeed."
Gill explained that getting construction workers to build the cross was a challenge.
Upon hiring workers, Gill said he did not tell them what they were building. But when the shape of the cross became obvious, Gill said about 20 of his Muslim workers quit. However, that did not stop other Muslims from continuing to peacefully work on the cross alongside Christians.
One particular Muslim named Mohammad Ali (not to be confused with the boxing legend, Muhammad Ali) works on the cross' construction as a volunteer for an astonishing 98 hours a week and considers it a "work of God."
"Henry has supported me well over the years, helping with the birth of my [seven] children, with medicine, their education, so I don't need a daily wage," Ali told the Post.
Many of the area Christians are concerned that the cross will only further escalate religious tensions in the area and bring about more attacks against them.
Although many of Gill's friends are concerned with his safety since they believe he has a target on his back, Gill said he doesn't worry about the possibility that Muslims are out to get him. He leaves his safety in the hands of God, who was the one who initially called him to take action. Gill referred to Psalm 91.
"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,'" Psalm 91 reads. "Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence."
Although Gill said he wanted to build his cross higher than any other cross in the world, his structure does not top the list of the world's tallest crosses. "The Great Cross" in St. Augustine, Florida, still holds the title for the world's largest cross, as it stands in at 208 feet in height. Gill said that his cross will be the largest cross constructed in Asia.
When the Cross and its lighting system are finally completed later this year, Gill said he plans to hold an inaugural ceremony to honor its construction and plans to invite Pope Francis, Hillary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.