11/28/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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In Advent, Pakistani Church urged to recall those who suffer

by Qaiser Felix

The president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference has invited the community – which is preparing to "celebrate the loving presence of Jesus" – to remember those who suffer, especially quake survivors. An appeal was also made to the Sangla Hill Christians: "Tragic events, yes, but remain firm in the faith".

Lahore (AsiaNews) – "Celebrate Christmas in a simple manner, without lavish spending" and remember, in this period of Advent, "all those around us who suffer, especially survivors of the earthquake of 8 October". This was the invitation extended to the Pakistani Catholic community in a pastoral letter signed by Mgr John Saldanha, archbishop of Lahore and President of the Pakistani Bishops' Conference, and by Mgr Joseph Coutts, bishop of Faisalabad, vice-president of the Bishops' Conference and national Caritas director.

The two bishops wrote the letter to mark the first Sunday of Advent: the text "advises" the Catholic community about the best way to celebrate the Christmas season "remembering all the time those who need healing, consolation and hope. As citizens of Pakistan we share in the sorrow and heartbreak of this national tragedy. In many churches prayers were offered for the victims of this tragedy.

We can say with just pride that, few though we are, Christians were among the first to reach the disaster area to extend a helping hand.  Religious priests and sisters, Christians NGOs, parishes, schools and individual volunteers spontaneously responded to help. They not only collected money and relief goods, many gave of their time and 'talents' to help the victims.

"The President of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference donated half a million rupees to the national relief fund. On an international level, Pope Benedict XVI was one of the first to announce a donation for the victims of the earthquake. He even urged world leaders to give more help to tackle the national emergency.

"Similarly, international Catholic organizations such as Caritas came here from different parts of the country and the world and they are working day after day, in close collaboration with Caritas Pakistan, to improve the situation. They will stay here to help us in long-term reconstruction planning and we sincerely thank them for their messages of support and generous help.

"We also acknowledge and appreciate the generosity of the Christians of Pakistan, many of whom are very poor. It is not possible to count or calculate the amount of help sent from all over the country, neither is there need to do this. May God bless and abundantly reward all donors for their kindness and generosity.

"Obviously all we have done is to follow the teachings of Christ, who said: 'In so far as you did this to one of these brothers of mine, you did it to me' (Mt 25:40), and who told the parable of the Good Samaritan, inviting us to 'go, and do the same yourself' (Lk10:37).

"All this takes on special significance as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, the celebration of the presence of God coming among us. As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of God's loving presence among us in Jesus Christ, let us make a special effort to make this love real and tangible to the poor and suffering."

The bishops closed their letter by offering their "most sincere condolences" to Christians in Sangla Hill, hit by "tragic events" on 12 November, exhorting them to "remain firm in their faith".

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