Kashmir: Young converts from Islam pray for Benedict XVI
by Nirmala Carvalho
After a group of Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, young converts from Kashmir join in the prayers for the pope launched by AsiaNews for this Lent. The three converts are offering their suffering and marginalization, together with the sacrifice of their father Bashir, murdered by Muslim extremists because he had converted to Christianity. There is also participation from Italy, where the humiliations suffered by John Paul II are also being remembered.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Some young former Muslims who converted to Catholicism are joining in the prayers for the Pope this Lent. Shabnam (21), Saira (17), and Adil (16), together with their mother Ameena, who still lives in Kashmir, want Benedict XVI to know that they are praying for him and offering their sufferings and humiliations for his mission. "We pray that he may be strong," Shabnam he says, "and may continue to be the beacon of truth and love for the whole world."

The three young people and their mother are participating in the proposal made by AsiaNews yesterday, that during Lent Christians should pray for the pontiff, who is at the center of a media "war" against his ministry. The proposal originated from a suggestion sent to AsiaNews by a group of several hundred former Muslims in North Africa and the Middle East, who have launched prayer novenas for the pope, whom they see as a "sign of Jesus' love and a defender of the weak."

Adil, the youngest son, who this year will take his final year school exams, sees a profound unity between the sufferings and humiliations of converts from Islam, and the humiliations suffered by the pope: "I was baptized when I was very young, and it has always been very difficult: criticism, sarcasm, threats, discrimination, and social ostracism have caused us great suffering. But every suffering teaches us something, and our faith is strengthened, we rely on Christ and it is he who guides us in difficult times.

"Holy and beloved Father, never lose sight of your mission, do not forget the reason why God chose you, guide the generations to truth, and may God always be with you."

Bashir Ahmad Tantray, the father of Shabnam, Saira, and Adil, was killed by Islamic militants in November of 2006, in broad daylight. He had converted to Christianity in 1995, and had fled from his village after being threatened by Islamic extremist groups. Years later, he had gone back there to care for his dying father, and was killed.

Bashir was an engineer for the J&K Power Development Dept, and regional coordinator of the Global Council of Indian Christians in Kashmir. "Ever since the death of our father," Shabnam recounts, "it has been horrible. Few can understand our suffering and sense of abandonment. We fled to Mumbai, but our mother is still in Kashmir. We see her only during vacations. For her, every day is a constant struggle and a constant suffering."

Among the expressions of support for the proposal to pray for Benedict XVI sent to AsiaNews is one from an Italian woman, Paola.

"I join the initiative without reservation," Paola writes, "I will pray for the pope, as I have always done since 1978."

And she recalls that John Paul II was also frequently attacked (and still is today, even after his death): "In order to proclaim to humanity that it is only in Christ that man rediscovers himself, in order to seek unity among Christians, Pope Wojtyla did not hesitate, even at the last limits of his strength, to confront exhausting journeys, almost impossible encounters, even criticisms on the part of those who were close to him. Did we ever ask ourselves how much pain he felt in the face of the accusations from Küng, or from the Lefebvrists? And what can be said about the radical attacks and his isolation amid his countless appeals against war, against abortion, against the dangers of a humanity without God?"

"Yes," she concludes, "I will pray for Pope Benedict XVI; even more than this, I will entrust him the intercession of his 'little-great predecessor', but I also urge more fervent prayers that the appeal of 'Santo subito' [the immediate canonization of John Paul II] may come to fruition."