01/14/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Faisalabad: inspired by Benedict XVI, Christians and Muslims engage in dialogue for peace

by Shafique Khokhar
The Faisalabad diocese organised a meeting that brought together priests, Muslim leaders and scholars. Mgr Coutts calls for the separation of state and religion and opposition to barriers that divide. Vicar general laments the fact that the constitution does not promote the principles inspired by Ali Jinnah. Education can be used in the fight against hatred and intolerance, activists say.
Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Christians and Muslims must develop closer ties and promote a culture centred on dialogue, tolerance, peace and harmony, this according to the participants at a meeting held on Tuesday in the conference hall of Faisalabad cathedral. Priests, Muslim religious leaders, scholars, educators, writers and representatives of civil society groups took part in the event. Inspired by the message of Pope Benedict XVI‘s for World Peace Day, the meeting was organised under the aegis of Diocesan Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue in order to boost interfaith harmony and relations between the two communities.

In his address, Mgr Joseph Coutts, bishop of Faisalabad, mentioned Ali Jinnah, founder of modern Pakistan, and the principle of separation between state and religion. “The religion or caste or creed of citizens has nothing to do with the business of the State,” the prelate said. “So there should not be any discrimination and distinction between citizens in Pakistan”. Instead, we ought to celebrate mutual understanding, respect and tolerance, more specifically the value of diversity, “in order to break social boundaries and overcome differences”.

The Vicar General of the Diocese of Faisalabad, Fr Khalid Rasheed Asi, criticised Pakistan’s current constitution because it gives “maximum benefits to the elite class instead of marginalised groups”, thus contradicting the principles promoted by Ali Jinnah, father of the nation.

Fr Aftab James Paul, director of the Diocesan Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue, agrees. In his view, “a space for interaction between young people and religious leaders” must be created. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “peace and harmony” are the two main goals to pursue in the year that just began.

Activists and civil society leaders also took part in the meeting. AWARD president Christina Peter stressed the role of religious leaders “in bringing Christians and Muslims closer together. Equally, “the participation of women” must be promoted as an element of union and peaceful exchange.

SHADOW director Anjum James Paul focused on the need to bridge the gap between the two communities. This requires major changes to the educational and school systems, which at present instil “hatred and intolerance”.

Lastly, Najeeb Ali Shah mentioned two major figures who were killed because of their work for peace and interfaith dialogue, namely Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, both killed by Islamic fundamentalists.

“For them,” he added, “we must promote a culture of dialogue and tolerance rather than violence and hatred.”
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