The Archbishop of Karachi, the first Pakistani cardinal in 24 years, expresses his best wishes for the end of Ramadan. He speaks about relations with Muslims and their positive reactions after his election as cardinal as well as about his hope for a visit by Pope Francis to Pakistan.
Karachi (AsiaNews) – “Eid greetings is not only words. It is about coming together and reaching out to our Muslim friends. The joy of Eid is the most natural thing for Christians in Pakistan who live in Muslim neighbourhoods. We have hosted several Iftar dinners (to break the fast) which provide an opportunity to meet our Muslim brothers and sisters, from human rights activists to government officials,” said Mgr Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Karachi, who was recently elected cardinal.
Speaking about Eid al-Fitr, the feast that marked the end of Ramadan on Thursday, the cardinal said that “For many years I have been sending Eid cards enclosed with the wishes from Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue along with its Urdu (national language) translation. In Faisalabad diocese, I used to call the clerics who were part of our peace committee.”
Turning to the positive reaction among Muslims after Pope Francis appointed him cardinal last month, he said, “It was overwhelming. Those who knew what it was about agreed that it was an honour for Pakistan. I was touched and impressed how they viewed this development in a wider context. The joy was genuine”.
“The College of Cardinals shows the universality of church. His closest advisors, the nine cardinals, are from all the continents. We can see that Holy Father cares for the small but dynamic Church of Pakistan. Now there is a remote possibility of seeing a Pakistani Pope. Still I am struggling to do as much as I can as the archbishop of Karachi archdiocese.”
Since he became the archbishop of the port city in 2012, the cardinal has ordained ten priests. In five years he has also buried 13 priests, four of them in their nineties. "Overall we are a young Church,” he said.
However, “The whole atmosphere in which we live in this Islamic state is becoming more and more difficult for non-Muslims but there are other aspects to the situation of religious freedom in the country.”
In 2016, the Cardinal elect moved forward the martyrdom cause of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani Catholic minister for minorities who was assassinated in 2011.
“He was killed for his faith. His friends suggested he move aboard amid death threats but he chose to stay and fight. He paid the price. However, the inquiry and process of canonisation is taking time.”
“Former Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad-Rawalpindi diocese suffered a nervous breakdown before his death in 2016. The recently installed Archbishop Joseph Arshad of the northern diocese is also serving as the Apostolic Administrator of Faisalabad diocese and has a lot on his plate,” said the prelate.
Meanwhile, Card Coutts also expressed his support for the government’s invitation to Pope Francis to visit Pakistan. The current government made history last month for completing a second consecutive democratic five-year constitutional mandate.
In his 2016 visit to the Vatican, former Federal Minister for Human Rights Senator Kamran Michael reported that Pope Francis had accepted the invitation of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to visit Pakistan.
However, the then director of the Vatican Press Office Father Federico Lombardi made it clear that “currently no travel program to Pakistan [was] being studied”. The Pope was grateful for the invitation, but he neither accepted nor refused, Vatican sources said.
“If the Pope has to come, the invitations must be both from the government and the local Church. Such commitments are made long before the papal visits. Once democracy becomes functional and a new government takes over after July 25 General Elections, I will support the initiative to invite the Holy Father,” said Archbishop Coutts.