03/03/2016, 13.49
PAKISTAN – VATICAN

Islamabad: Pope Francis accepts invitation to visit Pakistan

by Kamran Chaudhry

During a meeting with the pontiff in Rome, two Pakistani cabinet ministers extended the invitation. “We welcome the Catholic spiritual leader,” said Kumar Vankwani, a Pakistani MP. “We have not received any written information from Rome", said the bishop of Faisalabad. In his view, the visit is not likely to take place this year, but "If he comes, it will be a great encouragement and show of solidarity for Pakistan where people have been facing terrorism for years."

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The Pakistani government has invited Pope Francis to visit the country and the pope has accepted, this according to a government press release that also noted that the pontiff prayed for “Pakistan and the victims of terrorism”.

Some Pakistani political leaders spoke to AsiaNews confirming the report, but the bishop of Faisalabad warned that it is not likely to happen this year.

Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yusuf and the Minister of Ports and Shipping Kamran Michael passed on the invitation during a meeting with the pope in Rome. On that occasion, Francis offered special prayers for Pakistan and its people. Pakistani media welcomed the visit.

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a Member of the National Assembly and head of the Pakistan Hindu Council, confirmed the news with AsiaNews.

"We welcome the Catholic spiritual leader,” he said. “This is a good omen for our country. The pope himself has mentioned the news about his visit. The security situation is now favourable”.

Still, Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad believes that it is hard to say whether Pakistan’s Christian minority will see the Holy Father in person this year.

"Usually a team from the Vatican starts visiting the destination country a year ahead,” said the Bishop Arshad who served for 14 years in the diplomatic service of the Holy See.

“There are lots of arrangements before the arrival of the pontiff.  We have not received any written information from Rome", he added.

Still, "If he comes, it will be a great encouragement and show of solidarity to Pakistan where people have been facing terrorism for years."

According to Fr Morris Jalal, founder of a Catholic TV station in Lahore archdiocese, the pope’s acceptance of the invitation by the Pakistani prime minister is part of diplomatic negotiations.

"Local media aired the news yesterday night,” he said, “but the country's security situation is not favourable at the moment. Still, the security agencies have the capacity to provide protection to Pope Francis. Local Christians need their spiritual leader to boost their image."

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a population of about 200 million. Of these, 97 per cent are Muslim (80 per cent Sunni and 20 per cent Shia). Christians number about 3 million; Catholics are little more than a million. The Hindu community has about 3 million members, whilst Sikhs are about 20,000.

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