2016 was not an easy year for Christians in Pakistan said Archbishop of Lahore during an interview the Aid to the Church in Need. He said that the worst of them all was a terrorist attack on Christians on Easter Sunday, March 27. Yet at the same time, it was a year of hope he asserted.
The year 2016 has been a difficult one for Pakistani Christians, during which they suffered one of the worst jihadist attacks last Easter Sunday. An Islamist terrorist blew himself up in the central Gulshan Iqbal Park in Lahore, leaving behind 78 dead and over 300 injured. Yet at the same time it has been a year of hope.
Archbishop of Lahore who presides over the largest diocese in Pakistan, said that the Church in Pakistan has lived the Year of Mercy with great intensity. He was being interviews by Josué Villalón from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
When asked about the present situation in Lahore he said: “It appears to be a little better. Security has been improved around our religious celebrations. The people are cheerful and motivated. They have prepared themselves spiritually for the Christmas feast, and they are very happy to be able to celebrate these feasts. But at the same time people are a little frightened because, as happened last Easter, we know that we could well be attacked during the Christmas season.”
Josué Villalón asked the Pakistani Friar that how do Pakistani Christians celebrate Christmas in the thick of violence and attacks. “The truth is that the people love to celebrate Christmas. They decorate their homes with stars, and on 16th December they begin a Christmas novena. And of course they also go shopping, like everyone else in the world,” Archbishop of Lahore replied.
“In Pakistan Christians put up stars in their homes, in the streets, in the churches and schools in order to show that Jesus Christ is the Light who has come into the world and express their hope that by this light the darkness will disappear. The darkness that is war, that is discrimination. We need the light of Christ to illuminate our path and so that darkness may be defeated. So we put up stars as a symbol of our faith in Christ,” he said.
“Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Islamic country with a population of around 190 million, in which Christians make up just 2%. We are a very tiny minority, yet at the same time we are a very living Church. The great majority of the Christians are very poor, but we are very rich in our faith. They are really interested in the Word of God and there are very committed laypeople involved in the work of catechesis who are helping young people and married couples to live their faith with fervor.
For example, the Year of Mercy was a very special time. The Christians of Pakistan are champions of mercy. I recall that one day, after celebrating Holy Mass I went up to a married couple to give them my blessing. They told me that my homily on mercy and pardon had helped them greatly, since they had lost a son in the attack in the Gulsan Iqbal Park on Easter Sunday and that they had forgiven the suicide bomber who blew himself up in that attack,” Archbishop told Josué Villalón.
When asked about his assessment of the year 2016, Archbishop Shaw said: “We experienced some very difficult moments, such as the terrorist attack in Gulsan Iqbal Park, but the people are getting back on their feet. The Year of Mercy has been a great blessing for the whole Church and especially for the Church in Pakistan. We celebrated many encounters of dialogue between the religions. We give thanks to the Pope for this Year of Mercy, and for the prayers and the help of so many people who have reminded us that we in Pakistan are not alone.”
Villalónow questioned Archbishop about the relations Pakistani Church enjoys with other religious groups, he said: “This is the moment to promote increased dialogue between religions, and especially with Islam, which is growing greatly, including in Europe. I’m very proud of the good relations we have with the leaders of other religions.
We celebrate each other’s festivals; they celebrate Christmas with us and we also celebrate the end of Ramadan with them. But in order for there to be a genuine dialogue it is important that our young people are well instructed in the Word of God. It is also important for there to be unity among Christians. It is important to teach the Bible to the young people, not so that they know it by heart, but to put it into practice through love for neighbor.”
“Education is important to us. We especially want to make it possible for young Christians to go to university,” Archbishop Shaw said when asked about greatest need of the Pakistani Church. “Even though it’s very difficult, because it requires a lot of money and the Christian families are very poor. We also need to rebuild the churches and mission stations. We need to renovate our seminary. We have many vocations and we need to extend it. At present we have 34 young men in the minor seminary, 12 studying philosophy and 10 theology.”