On April 15th, Msgr. Arshad inaugurated St. Mary's Church in the atrium of the Agriculture University. Until now, only mosques were allowed to be built in Pakistan. The church "will ensure the religious needs of Christian students and workers".
Lahore (AsiaNews) - For the first time in the history of Pakistan, a Christian chapel has been opened in an Islamic university. This is the church of St. Mary, housed in the atrium of the Agriculture University of Faisalabad. To inaugurate it, on April 15th, Msgr. Joseph Arshad, archbishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and president of the Pakistani Episcopal Conference, formerly titular of the diocese of Faisalabad. During the ceremony, he said: "The presence of a church inside the university enclosure will offer a message of love and harmony throughout the country. Christians will come here to pray for the progress and prosperity of the institute and of the country ".
The new chapel is a novelty for the majority Muslim country. Up until now, more than 177 universities and colleges have been allowed to build only Islamic mosques. Christian places of worship were only allowed in Christian institutions. At the same time, there are no Hindu or gurdwara temples for Sikhs.
The project was launched in 2015, at the initiative of the former vicar general of the diocese of Faisalabad. The latter has allocated 300,000 rupees (about 2,000 euros) for the construction of the site, while the faculty has assigned more than one square km of land.
The ceremony was attended by university leaders, two priests and over 70 Christian workers who live on campus. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, chancellor of the faculty, said: "This church was built with the aim of ensuring the religious needs of Christian students and university workers. I believe in inter-religious harmony and in the fact that mosques and churches are both sacred places in which to worship God. A university chapel is a living example of Islamic-Christian brotherhood ".
Msgr. Arshad thanked the administration and the government, for their willingness to provide a place of worship in which the Christian minority can meet and profess their faith in freedom. Then he cited a speech addressed to the nation by the founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who had launched an appeal to create an inclusive and impartial government, [guarantee] religious freedom, the rule of law and equality for all. "You are free - the archbishop said, quoting the words of Jinnah -, free to go to your temples, free to go to your mosques or other religious places in this state of Pakistan. You can belong to any religion, caste or creed: this has nothing to do with the business of the State."