03/04/2009, 00.00
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Maktaba-e-Anaveem, teaching theology to Christians and Muslims

by Qaiser Felix
The institute founded by Bible scholar Emmanuel Asi is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. Formation courses open to all; working groups in 16 cities in the country; more than 170 publications created so far. An initiative also appreciated by Protestants and Muslims.

Lahore (AsiaNews) -20 years of activity spent teaching theology to ordinary people in a country where only 2% of the population is Christian, while there are more than 130 million Muslims, 85% of the inhabitants. This is the story of the Maktaba-e-Anaveem Pakistan (MAP), also known as the Theological Institute for Laity, created in 1989 from an idea of Fr. Emmanuel Asi, a Bible scholar and priest of the archdiocese of Lahore.

On February 28, the MAP marked its 20th anniversary with a solemn celebration at its headquarters in Sadhoke, a village in the district of Gujranwala in Punjab. Fr. Asi tells AsiaNews that more than 10,000 people have benefited from the activities of the MAP: "We welcome men and women of any faith without any discrimination in our groups so anyone interested in learning contextual theology can join our groups."

Catholics and Protestants, but also Muslims and the faithful of other religions frequent the activities at the institute, which has a network of 16 groups scattered throughout various cities in Pakistan. The MAP organizes formation courses that include seminars and study sessions. The MAP also produces theological publications: over 20 years of activity, it has published about 170 books destined for both the Catholic and Protestant faithful, and also appreciated by Muslim scholars.

Various personalities of the Catholic Church in Pakistan participated in the celebrations for the anniversary. Lawrence John Saldanha, the archbishop of Lahore, recalled that the service offered by the MAP is in keeping with the teaching of Vatican Council II, which urged serious and continual formation in the faith for the laity. The archbishop also emphasized that the openness of the institute to anyone who wants to attend it, including women, is a contribution to the affirmation of religious freedom. Jospeh Coutts, the bishop of Faisalabad, thanked Fr. Asi for his contribution to instructing the laity and making them active in the Church's life, and also stressed the importance of the publications in the Urdu language.

Messages of good wishes came from the archbishop of Karachi, Evaristo Pinto, and from the bishop of Peshawar, Mano Rumal Shah, but also from personalities of civil society and members of other religions. These include Rehman Faiz, a Muslim and a representative of Amnesty International in Pakistan, who in his message to Fr. Asi expressed appreciation for "the efforts being made by Maktaba-e-Anaveem Pakistan in various segments of publications and dialogue for better understanding among people, communities and religions."

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