The Catholic Church in Pakistan is important for the country, says Reinhard Backes. He recently visited Pakistan for the fourth time as permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), in order to inform himself about the situation of the Christians and the projects that ACN supports. “With more than 200 million inhabitants, Pakistan is in sixth place on the list of the most populous countries,” he explained on his return. “Although the overwhelming majority of the population are Muslims and only some two per cent are Christians, they still amount to at least three million people in the country.”

According to Reinhard Backes’ account, the Church in Pakistan is a young church. “The majority of all worshippers at divine services in Pakistan are children, youths and young adults. But the Catholic Church in the country is a young church, not only in terms of its members, but also when viewed historically.” Unfortunately, due to the difficult social and economic situation, young people in the country hardly have any perspective, he says.

Reinhard Backes, permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Reinhard Backes, permanent section leader of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Further, not only for Christians and other religious minorities, but also for Muslims, the controversial blasphemy law represents a major problem because it is sometimes misused in order to pursue and oppress dissenters, says Backes. Although, some weeks ago, Asia Bibi – one of the best-known victims of the blasphemy law – was able to escape the death penalty and depart for Canada after nearly nine years of uncertainty, Christians are still in prison on account of this law. More than 224 Christians have suffered from the arbitrariness of this law since its introduction in 1986, he confirms. “Even though there are signs of hope, the Christians in the country are constantly living with a degree of insecurity.”

The mood in the country, where Islam is the state religion, is marked by religious intolerance. Over again, there are dead and injured in attacks and assaults, says Backes. He was particularly impressed by his meeting with young people who had experienced a serious attack on two Christian churches in Lahore four years ago. “Sakinder was at prayer in one of the churches and lost an eye in the explosions. Antashia had been singing in the choir at the service. When she went outside, body parts were scattered in the street. Qandeel told me that, despite the severe attacks, the congregation has grown closer together and that many subsequently joined the security service. They all do it on a voluntary basis and are proud to be able to serve the Church.”

During his journeys through the country, Reinhard Backes visited numerous projects that ACN has funded in recent years. These include the Joti Pastoral Centre in Mirpur Khas in Hyderabad Diocese, as well as the parish of St. Peter in Jhugian Jhuhid (Lahore Archdiocese) where Catholics live today who were violently driven out of the so-called Joseph Colony in 2013. ACN is helping them to develop the new parish there.

Christians in Pakistan living between hope and fear.

Christians in Pakistan living between hope and fear.

In the words of Reinhard Backes, an indispensable source of hope and confidence in Pakistan’s patriarchal society is the involvement of Christian women. “In many places, nuns perform enormously important pastoral and social work.” He mentions as examples the Mother Teresa Sisters in Faisalabad, or the Franciscan nuns in Dar-ul-Sukun, a social facility whose name means “House of Peace and Love”. There, with great devotion, a nun from Karachi has been caring for neglected children for the last 50 years. “They care for the weakest in society, orphans and persons with physical or mental disabilities. These initiatives, which are being driven forward by Christians in all dioceses, are mainly carried out by women,” reports Reinhard Backes, for whom Pakistan is not only a country of fear and violence, but also of hope and charity.

In the last two years alone, the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need has funded nearly 100 projects in Pakistan to the tune of more than 1.5 million euros, in particular giving aid for the construction of churches and other ecclesiastical facilities, support for priests, seminarians and nuns, as well as the acquisition of Christian literature.

 

Issanagri is one of the villages within the parish of the Assumption, based in the village of Chak 7, in the diocese of Faisalabad. The parish as a whole has a total of 6,000 Catholic faithful, while Issanagri itself has around 300 Catholic families, or approximately 1,500 Catholics.

The village is around 6 miles (10 km) from the centre of the parish, so it is a long walk to the parish church. Issanagri already has a small chapel of its own, but it is far too small for the number of the faithful.

Pakistan: Help to complete a church in Issanagri.

Pakistan: Help to complete a church in Issanagri.

So now the Catholic faithful have themselves begun to build a larger church. They have made great sacrifices to do so – collecting money, although they themselves are poor, and working hard on the building site, even though they already have to work very hard simply to support their families. But despite all their efforts and hard work, they have so far only managed to build part of the church. Holy Mass is still being celebrated in the open air, between the partly built walls, where there is no shelter from the scorching sun or torrential rain, or indeed the biting cold that can still be felt in winter, even in Pakistan.

The parish priest, Father Waseem Walter, has written to ACN for help so that they can finally complete their church. He writes, „It is urgently necessary to build this church.“ We have promised him our help, and his people were overjoyed to learn that we are willing to support them. Now we need your help to raise the 11,000 Euros we have already promised them…

Code: 328-01-19

Though outwardly seemingly unremarkable, the village of Khushpur is sometimes jokingly described as „Pakistan‘s Vatican“. For in a certain sense, it can be seen as the heart of the Catholic Church in Pakistan. The reason: from this one Catholic parish no fewer than two bishops, over 35 priests, more than 100 religious sisters and a considerable number of religious brothers have emerged. And also in Khushpur is the National Formation Centre for Catechists, where catechists from all over the country receive their training. Another famous son of Khushpur was the late Minorities‘ Minister of Pakistan, Shabaz Bhatti, a profoundly faithful Catholic who stood up against the country‘s infamous blasphemy laws and also defended Asia Bibi. In March 2011 he was gunned down by extremists on his way to work. He knew very well that his life was in danger but was nevertheless willing to die for Christ if need be.

The village of Khushpur is sometimes jokingly described as „Pakistan‘s Vatican“.

The village of Khushpur is sometimes jokingly described as „Pakistan‘s Vatican“.

The village, or small town, of Khushpur, with its population of almost 8,000 Catholics, lies some 25 miles (40 km) south of the city of Faisalabad and is the largest almost entirely Catholic village in the entire „Islamic Republic of Pakistan“, where for the most part Christians make up only a vanishingly small minority and constantly have to contend with discrimination, obstruction and outright violence.

The parish is an exceptionally lively one, and the many vocations that emerge from this community speak for themselves. Catholic feasts and festivals are celebrated with great solemnity, especially the feast of Christ the King, which is marked with a procession lasting many hours. The people are rock-solid in their faith and live the liturgical year of the Church with great intensity. The importance of prayer and the Sacraments is a daily reality for them.

The village, or small town, of Khushpur, with its population of almost 8,000 Catholics, lies some 25 miles (40 km) south of the city of Faisalabad.

The village, or small town, of Khushpur, with its population of almost 8,000 Catholics, lies some 25 miles (40 km) south of the city of Faisalabad.

Needless to say, a vehicle is an absolute necessity for the pastoral care of the parish. For it covers a large area, and the priests and catechists have to minister to all the scattered faithful. There are sick people to visit and Mass to be celebrated in the remotest corners of the parish, and there are also many ongoing pastoral activities for which some means of transport is an urgent necessity. We are therefore proposing to give them 9,000 Euros so that they can purchase a vehicle for the pastoral work of the parish.

Code: 328-01-29

 

NOMAN is a young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need he talks about the discrimination and mistreatment he experienced at school because of his Christian faith. Here is Noman’s story:

“I am a first-year student of business. My hobbies include cricket and soccer. I am a Christian. No one in my family has been kidnapped or victimized by violence, but I have faced discrimination from classmates and teachers because of my religion.

“When I reported a Muslim classmate for cheating, the teacher said: ‘He doesn’t cheat. You did it.’ The classmate called me ‘bhangie’, which means ‘street sweeper’ or ‘gutter cleaner’; he made fun of me and used words that were disrespectful of my faith. But I could not respond in kind. If I had done so, I could’ve been charged with blasphemy, and my family would have suffered. So I stayed silent.

“Both my teacher and my principal were well-aware of the situation. My mother was called in to speak with my teacher, but they were not ready to listen to my version of what happened. They even refused to give me a form that the school required for exams—so one year of my studies was wasted.

Noman, young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan.

Noman, young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan.

“But I am thankful to God, who has not abandoned my family. He was there when a friend of my mother offered to pay for my education, which my parents could not afford at the time. The happiest moment of my life was when I completed High School; I was the first person to do so in my family.

“I now study business at a government college. I attend classes for half the year; I spend the other half working as a salesman at the mall, because it is hard for my father to cover all the family’s living expenses. Even in hardship, God has never forsaken me. He has always helped and loved me. God and my family, especially my mother, are the reasons for my happiness.

“Despite what I’ve experienced, I believe that I will be successful. And when I worry, I recite Psalm 23; I always carry a rosary with me as well.

“Western countries should support poor Pakistani Christian students with housing and academic opportunities, so that they can at least lead better, more stable lives. Otherwise, I have no hope for Pakistan’s minorities remaining in the country. If I could gather all of the world’s leaders in one room, I would say that I only want free education for our children.”

‘Today is a day of rejoicing’ – Neville Kyrke-Smith

By John Pontifex

ASIA Bibi’s flight to Canada has been hailed as “the news we had all been hoping and praying for” – according to the head of a Catholic organisation committed to helping victims of injustice in Pakistan.

Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf, National Director of Pakistan’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “For almost 10 years now, this is the day all of us have been waiting for when the family can at last be reunited.” And Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “Thank you to so many people who have prayed and campaigned for Asia Bibi’s release. “Today is a day of rejoicing.”

United Kingdom, 09.10.2018 - Eisham Ashiq, 19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi, & Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi.

United Kingdom, 09.10.2018 – Eisham Ashiq, 19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi, & Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi.

Paying tribute to Aid to the Church in Need and all those who have appealed for justice for Asia Bibi, Father Yousaf said: “There are so many who deserve our congratulations for all that they have done for Asia in her struggle to regain her freedom.” The comments come amid breaking news that the Christian woman, formerly on death row for blasphemy, has finally left her native Pakistan and travelled to Canada, where her two daughters, Eisham and Esha, are now living. Father Yousaf said: “We thank God that the family is now being reunited at long last.

“We pray to God that they will have a better future and can put behind them nearly 10 years of suffering. “We thank God that justice has prevailed.”

Asia Bibi was charged with blasphemy in 2009, a crime punishable by death. Last October the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her, confirming its decision in an appeal hearing in January, but she was not allowed to follow her wish and leave the country – until today. Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “At Aid to the Church in Need, we were privileged to welcome some of Asia Bibi’s family to the UK last year. “We are sure that the presentations they made gave added impetus to finding a solution for Asia who had suffered unjust imprisonment for nearly 10 years.”

He added: However, today is also a day tinged with great sadness – as we remember those others who are still incarcerated or unjustly accused under the Blasphemy Laws today as well as those who sacrificed so much for Asia Bibi, particularly the politicians Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, who gave up their lives in the pursuit of freedom for Asia. “Our prayers and our work will continue to help all those who are unjustly accused by radical fundamentalists and who cannot practise their Christian faith freely.”

The life of a priest in Pakistan is by no means an easy mission. Most of the Catholic priests in the country have to minister to vast areas, and the threat of Islamic extremism is a growing and ever present danger. Again and again Christians are victims of violence and false accusations of blasphemy, and even in their ordinary everyday lives they face constant hostility and discrimination. Socially speaking, most Christians are on the bottom rung of society. They look to their priests not only for pastoral and spiritual help but also turn to them in every kind of need. Often, if a rural worker employed as an indentured labourer by a wealthy local landowner should die, his wife and children will find themselves suddenly thrown out onto the streets because their landlord has evicted them. Such people will naturally turn to their priest, as will the parents of sick children, the victims of violent attacks and all who are in need and despair.

Meanwhile, the priests themselves are often living in a state of constant tension. Most of them have already been the targets of threatening phone calls and letters, and even the bishops have received letters demanding that they convert to Islam. Almost all of them can also confirm that their telephones have been tapped and that they have received strange phone calls, for example by someone claiming to be a Muslim who wishes to convert to Christianity. If a priest should say the wrong thing at such a moment, he can find himself in all sorts of trouble.

935 Missae Ordinariae for 17 diocesan priests working in Multan Diocese - 2017: Prayer during celebration of the Eucharist.

935 Missae Ordinariae for 17 diocesan priests working in Multan Diocese – 2017: Prayer during celebration of the Eucharist.

Given this difficult situation, it is vitally important for the priests to be able to meet together regularly in order to encourage and strengthen one another and foster the fraternal spirit between them, while at the same time deepening their spiritual and theological knowledge.

In the diocese of Multan there are 18 diocesan priests and 19 priests belonging to different religious orders. Large parts of the diocese are in desert regions and there are numerous terrorist camps in these areas. The now deceased predecessor of the present Bishop actually himself survived a murder attempt in 1996, while in one of the churches in his diocese.

The Catholic Church in this region not only provides pastoral support for its own faithful but also supplies humanitarian aid in some of the areas where the government itself does not dare to venture, on account of the dangers. Many Muslims are also very grateful for this help and frequently ask the priests for their prayers.

The priests of the diocese meet together once a year for a joint retreat. There are also monthly meetings in various places. The fraternal spirit of communion between them helps to strengthen them and give new energy and impetus to their spiritual lives, so that they can return to their communities, refreshed and reinvigorated.

We have helped before, and this year we are helping once again, with 8,000 Euros so that the 37 priests of the diocese can continue to meet together. That represents a total of just 216 Euros per priest per year, to cover everything from travel costs to board and lodging.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT Aid to the Church in Need, VISIT http://www.churchinneed.org
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ABOUT US

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.