05/08/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Bishop John Joseph, “a powerful voice breaking the silence”

A meeting was held in Faisalabad on the 9th anniversary of the death of Bishop John Joseph who took his own life to call the world’s attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. He is remembered as “the voice of the voiceless” and his act is commemorated as “the cry in the wildness that lifted the veil of silence surrounding extremism.”

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – The late bishop of Faisalabad, Mgr John Joseph, “was the voice of the voiceless, an example of courage and evangelical devotion,” and his sacrifice “was a cry in the wildness that lifted the veil of silence surrounding extremism.” Catholics and Muslims alike gathered in Faisalabad on the 9th anniversary of his death. The prelate took his own life in 1998 to highlight to the world the injustice of the ‘blasphemy law,’ i.e. the set of legal rules that punish anyone who offends Islam, its prophet and Holy Scriptures.

On May 6, 1998, Bishop Joseph killed himself at the entrance to the courthouse in Sahiwal where Ayub Masih was on trial. Despite the lack of evidence he was sentenced to death. With his death, the prelate wanted to tell the world about the many injustices endured by Pakistan’s Catholic community.

During the diocesan meeting that took place on May 5 and 6, participants remembered that, in his pastoral work, Mgr John Joseph fought against fundamentalism and religious intolerance.

Faisalabad’s current bishop, Mgr Joseph Coutts, said that Bishop Joseph “always gave himself against the persecution of his people. He did so fully conscious and dedicated, always faithful to his commitment. His great personality is a milestone for us in the struggle for peace and justice.”

“He was the voice of discriminated Pakistani,” said Fr Aftab James, diocesan director of the National Commission of Inter-Faith Dialogue and Ecumenism. “He broke the culture of silence and spoke out, when no one dared to, against the extremists of the country. We should not minimise his great struggle by reducing it to seminars or anniversaries; we should instead bring it into our daily lives

For Shamim Khataq, a Muslim lawyer, Bishop Joseph was a Shaheed–e–Azam (a great martyr), a friend to everyone regardless of sect of religion.

I love and respect him very much because he always talked about the dignity of humanity. I shall remember him all my life,” Ms Khataq said.

“I spent 21 years with Mgr Joseph and found him a great man,” said Dr Shafiq, the city’s deputy inspector general and a Muslim friend of Bishop Joseph. “He was not sectarian and maintained good relations with Protestants which is an admirable quality for me because I don’t find such things among Islam’s different sects.” (QF)

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