Pakistan: Christian Minority Victimized by Fundamentalists

Source: FSSPX News

 

Bishop Anthony Theodore Lobo, of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, answered the questions of Cipa Agency. His diocese is located to the north of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and numbers almost 200,000 Catholics out of a population of 36 million inhabitants. National population is over 155 million with 2% Christians in six dioceses. We give here below an excerpt of the interview with Jacques Berset:

Cipa: As a rule, Christians are poor people in Pakistan…

Bishop Lobo: Hardly any Christian comes from the rich Muslim, Hindu of Sikh spheres of society. Christians are on the margins of society, they are effectively the poorest. The dominant trend of thought  is that Pakistan, “the country of the pure”, is a Muslim country, and Christians, though born in the country, are not considered as true Pakistanis. Christian religions are considered to be connected with the West.

 

What future for Christians in Pakistan?

In my opinion, Christians have a future in our country, however on condition that they remain Christian and live as such. There are certainly conversions to Islam, especially when Christian girls marry Muslims. Such cases are numerous, because girls receive a better formation and education than boys. In that case, they do not want to marry Christians who do not reach up to their level.

As official in charge of the Commission for Education of the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference, as well as in my pastoral ministry, I have laid stress on the formation of boys. Thus I built a campus for male students in Rawalpindi, under the name of John-Paul II Boys’ Town. As of now, we have some sixty students. I also launched a new institution, the Ave Maria College, in order to create a Christian elite, because the Christian elite is not persecuted and finds a place in society. Indeed, when Muslims look for competent and qualified people they do not pay attention to their religious beliefs.

 

Hence the working-classes, the poor are under attack?

(…) The poor, Muslims or Christians, live side by side and inevitably frictions occur. Thus, in these milieus, the ‘Law on Blasphemy’ is often used to cover up conflicts between neighbors or to appropriate your neighbor’s land. Christians from poor milieus are privileged target. Under the pressure from Islamists, President Musharraf who wanted to suppress this law, will maintain it,  however, while establishing stricter conditions to avoid its being used for evil purposes especially through false accusations. These accusations may be deadly: people have been killed even before being judged, and even before being arrested by the police. I do not believe that anyone - Christian or non-Christian - would dare blaspheme against the Prophet, because people know the consequences.

Some denunciations are downright calumnies to obtain advantages, because a Christian occupies a function which excites jealousy, because someone wants to take his land, his house… In courts of first instance, the accused are systematically condemned. Whereas in the High Court of Justice, the accused are acquitted, because there is more objectivity.

(…)

 

Does the government protect the small Christian minority?

Yes, that is certain, because President Perwez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz are both alumni from my school, St. Patrick’s High School in Karachi. They are somewhat sympathetic towards us. But, extremists exercise pressure upon the government, as we could see on the occasion of the bloody incident at the Red Mosque in Islamabad. It is not only a problem for Christians. There is a strife for ideological hegemony within Islam. Many Muslims want to be liberal and democratic, but others think that only the Islam of the past is the true Islam.

 

What do Muslim fundamentalists really want?

Fundamentalists do not like modern people, and the fight goes on first within Islam between those who would be open and those who reject this opening onto modernity. Our schools, in which English and modern sciences are being taught easily become a target for extremist groups.

Obviously, they do not like either that girls be educated, because they want women to remain confined at home. Yet, on the other hand, we have a fair proportion of Muslims attending our schools. They are numerous in the seventy some Catholic schools in my diocese. They are even a majority in some of our high schools. (…) Fortunately, fundamentalists are still a minority in Pakistan!

 

Do you have many priestly and religious vocations?

We must be very careful with the number of candidates who seek admittance, because to be a priest in Pakistan is a good position: you have a car, money, a nice house. Candidates often have purely materialistic motivations, which oblige us to practice a severe selection. We have enough seminarians to provide for our needs and know no lack of priests. There are fewer priests leaving the priesthood than at the time of the Council. In my diocese, there is a priest for every parish that has several churches. (…)