Rome (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s Christian community “has no intention of giving in to violence or rising Islamic fundamentalism, moreover it aims to maintain a strong presence in the country and to guarantee that social and spiritual help which has earned it the respect of the great majority of the nation. It’s all about witnessing the Gospel and braving terrorism with our heads held high”.
This was the firm message of the bishop of Faisalabad, Msgr. Joseph Coutts, who in an interview with AsiaNews speaks of the life of the Church in a large Muslim Country, where the Christian community counts for only 2% of the population, but at the same time, carries out work of fundamental importance in the fields of education and healthcare.
In the face of the many difficulties which plague this small community, Msgr. Coutts maintains that “we must avoid being ghettoized but at the same time we must not loose sight of the general situation in Pakistan. In order to understand the nature of the violence against Christians we have to take into account the difficult social and political climate there, fruit of a government backed into a corner by Islamic fundamentalism and the silence of moderate Muslims”.
Above all, “one must never loose sight of the many rays of hope that come form various sources: on the one hand our peoples tenacity, who amount to 3 million out of 150 million Pakistanis, but who will not be bent by this wave of discrimination, and on the other the moderate Muslim majority who like us, feel the weight of fundamentalism”:
The bishop, head of the local Caritas, is currently in Rome for the Catholic organisations general Assembly. He continues: “The Church and Pakistan’s Christian Community are involved in social projects on many different levels: education, health care, the fight against drug abuse and support to society’s weakest categories. Our services are free and without ulterior motives: we don’t take into consideration the religion of the sick we cure, or the students we teach, and we are even less interested in their bank accounts”.
In the many Christian schools, clinics and hospitals spread throughout the country, “we have never, ever, not even for a second thought of removing our sacred symbols: the cross is hung in all the rooms, and the Bible can be found everywhere. This is not proselytism; this is simply love and respect for Christ’s witness, which must become ours too”.
The main aim, he adds, “is to try to changes people’s mentality through acts of love, justice and peace. We must bring these values to bear, without distinctions of sex or belief, because these are the cardinal principals of Christ our Saviour’s teachings. The results can already be seen: often Muslims participate in our celebrations, praying with us, despite the threat of these new Taliban”.
These, underline Msgr. Coutts, “are a recent ‘product’. Pakistan has become a battle field for foreign powers that we cannot seem to identify. What I am certain of is that the violence, persecution and threats against the minorities are not congenial to the people of Pakistan, it is imported from abroad”.
The bishop maintains that this theory can also be applied “to current difficulties our community is experiencing: discrimination, laws against the minorities and sectarian violence. These phenomenon which have grown in recent years, are the result of the military dictatorship: the current government while not being fully in favour, supports it because it is being blackmailed by radical groups that are both powerful and dangerous”. This “is a sign of the hardships that does not only affect us but the entire nation. We must clearly avoid generalising statements such as “Muslim equals terrorist”, but we must also reinforce that we will not be frightened by these threats and moreover, that we will not be bowed by violence”.
The so-called Talibanization of Pakistan, the increase in violent Islamic extremist attacks, “is not only aimed at the minorities: it also affects most part of the country’s people who have nothing whatsoever to do with Islamic extremism. Naturally, they have a certain responsibility and must be rebuked because they fail to voice their opposition to this phenomenon and the grave damage it creates”.
Only by uniting this moderate majority to an effective desire for change “will Pakistan be able to defeat the open wound of violence and discrimination. We are hopeful, and we will continue to do all in our power to facilitate this process of change, not only because it affects us directly but also because it is the fulcrum of Christ’s teaching”.