The courage of the Church of Pakistan, against the "Islamization" of society
by Nirmala Carvalho
Vatican figures speaks to AsiaNews about their impressions from a recent trip to Pakistan. Christians are persecuted; the blasphemy law is used to target the faithful and their businesses. But signals of hope are also emerging: the Church is "young, vibrant and courageous."

Delhi (AsiaNews) – In Pakistan there is an ongoing attempt to bring about the "complete Islamization of society" by a "fringe fanatics"; Christians are subjected to "humiliations" but the church, even though a "cultural and numerical minority” is while "young, vibrant and courageous." This was the statement made to AsiaNews by Father Theodore Mascarenhas, of the Pontifical Council for Culture, delegate for Asia, Africa and Oceania, who returned recently from a trip to the Asian nation.

Fr. Mascarenhas says that the "minority of fanatics" does not represent "the average Pakistani society”, but still manages to force the hand of those in authority to impose a radical vision of Islam and religion. Among several examples, the priest mentions the "nationalization of Christian educational institutions" carried out by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the former president and prime minister, later repudiated by General Musharraf, who "returned the property to the Christians." And yet he points to the "license to sell alcohol”, where it is unclear whether it was "a sign of tolerance” toward a different faith or another way to "consider people infidels" and, therefore, persecute them.  

The main form of repression of minorities, however, remains the infamous blasphemy law, which according to the Pakistani penal code stipulates life imprisonment or the death penalty for those who desecrate the Koran or profane the name of Mohammed. "The dreaded blasphemy law - says the priest - is one of the most powerful weapons and is used not only for issues related to the religious sphere, but according to eyewitness accounts, is exploited by jealous people to target Christians who get rich" through the their hard work and trade. He adds that President Zardari, "promised the pope to repeal the law," but "nobody believes that indeed he will".

The representative of the Pontifical Council for Culture says: "The process of Islamization began in schools, where textbooks deleted the "moderate visions" of religion to "replace them" with elements fomenting "sectarian divisions".  The country has also "deviated from the secular vision enshrined by the founding father" Ali Jinnah and exerts pressure to "change the cultures of minorities." Among many examples, the conversion from Christianity to Islam of cricket champion Tinu Yohannan and voice of the muezzin, from loudspeakers, five times a day calling the faithful to prayer, according to the dictates of the faith of Muhammad.

 However there are also signs of hope emerging from Pakistan, however, launched by the very Church that the fundamentalists want to annihilate. "The most encouraging note - explains Fr. Mascarenhas - is that the Church, its leaders and the faithful are admirable. They live their faith with courage. They suffer the difficulties of every Pakistani citizen in a country burdened by corruption, violence, terrorism. Bishops and priests, he says, have "a heart full of God" and loving "zeal for the Church and the people." "I also want –he added - to express a word of appreciation for the Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr. Adolfo Tito Yllana, who has a vast knowledge of the country, people and the socio-economic and cultural situation".

The survival of Christian culture in Pakistan – an originally multicultural nation, where Buddhist temples, Zoroastrian temples and churches lived side-by-side - is entrusted to institutions and schools, who are doing "outstanding work" for all students "regardless of their religious belief." The Indian priest recounts the experience at the major seminary of philosophy, in Lahore, where "I had the opportunity to interact with 55 students and the rector, Fr Khalid Yusaf. They represent the future of the Church in Pakistan [...] in the footsteps traced by the patron of the seminary, St. Francis Xavier”.