Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Christians in Pakistan "are discriminated, not persecuted," Fr Robert McCulloch told AsiaNews. For this reason, they need the "get united" and keep alive the "hope that is within us" for a better future of the country. The future of the Catholic Church is one of "great confidence" because "the new generations want to promote a Catholic view of the dignity of life."
Born in the Australian State of Victoria in 1946, Fr McCulloch has been a missionary in Pakistan with the Missionary Society of St. Columban since 1978. Last year, he moved to Rome on a new assignment but has gone back several times to the country where he lived for decades to see the progress of his many initiatives (schools, hospitals and centres).
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari recently awarded him the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam for his work on behalf of the nation's development (pictured Fr McCulloch, President Zardari and Paul Bhatti).
During his many years of mission, the Australian priest taught Church history, literature and Latin, served as the dean of the National Catholic Institute of Theology and was spiritual director of priests and new seminarians in Karachi.
In Hyderabad, he administered the 110-bed St Elizabeth Hospital, which specialises in maternal and childcare. It is the only facility "for 20,000 people in rural Sindh." Next September, it will open a new palliative care unit for the terminally ill. "Our best trained doctors and nurses will also visit the patients at home and take care of them. This fits the Catholic teaching on the dignity of life."
News reports have often focused on attacks against minorities, especially Christians, by fringe and fanatical elements with people killed and wounded and property damaged or destroyed. However, for Fr Robert, the term persecution is too strong because in many places, including Karachi and Islamabad, "people are free to worship."
In his view, it "is a matter of discrimination, not persecution". Incidents like Gojra, Shanti Nagar, and Multan were politically motivated. The "concepts of majority and minority should be eliminated."
During his mission in Pakistan, he focused on harmony and interreligious dialogue, especially with Muslims.
"Everywhere I went I tried to favour inter-confessional harmony. At St Elizabeth Hospital, one of the deputy medical superintendents is a Muslim. "We have Catholic, Muslim and Hindu doctors and nurses."
During the floods in 2010 and 2011, our doctors and nurses worked together with Muslims and Hindus treating patients without distinctions.
"Since 1978, I have been involved in education and health care," he explained, "opening small schools where I also taught."
From the start in Sheikhpura, Hyderabad and Badin, in the interior of Sindh province, he developed more ambitious projects that have led to five schools in remote areas each with 400 pupils.
"Six years ago, I started a Catholic Centre of Academic Excellence for boys to break the boundaries of discrimination. This will help develop the future leaders of the Catholic Church."
He also had the Theology Centre affiliate with the Melbourne College of Divinity students can thus earn a bachelors degree from Melbourne through the Catholic Church.
This has helped improve the training of Pakistani clergymen in the past ten years ago. "Among Pakistani Christians, the level of pride and confidence in their own faith has increased," he said.