Pakistani Church: '2019 will be the year of peace'
by Kamran Chaudhry

The inauguration ceremony took place on the first of December in the diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, with the announcement of the pastoral theme. Former coordinator Caritas Asia: "In 2018 two great blessings: the liberation of Asia Bibi and a new cardinal".

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church of Pakistan has announced that 2019 will be "the Year of Peace and Hope". The pastoral theme was revealed by Msgr. Joseph Arshad, president of the Pakistani Episcopal Conference and bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, on December 1st, during the inauguration ceremony of the new year in the Cathedral of St. Joseph of Rawalpindi.

The president of the Pakistani bishops recalled that 2018 was dedicated to the Eucharist and ended with a celebration in Lahore on 25 November. According to the numbers released by the Church, this year at least 50 thousand people have received the First Communion.

During the inaugural event for the theme of 2019, Msgr. Arshad said: "Let us all continue together to forge a new path of peace, let us light candles of peace and hope amid the darkness of hatred and the anguish of our lives. May the omnipotent Lord give all men and women the strength to break the walls that divide mankind and help us strengthen the bonds of mutual love and understanding of the other ".

Speaking to AsiaNews Fr. Bonnie Mendes, former regional coordinator of Caritas Asia, says: "2018 was a better year for religious minorities severely challenged by discriminatory laws and social exclusion". "After years of waiting - he added - we have been blessed with two gifts: the acquittal of Asia Bibi and a new cardinal. Unfortunately, however, the Christian community has not yet managed to become a powerful political force ".

The priest refers to the release of the Christian mother who spent nine years on death row for a crime she never committed, that is of blasphemy against the Muslim religion. Fr Mendes also recalls the elevation to the cardinal's throne of Joseph Coutts, archbishop of Karachi, last June. He underlines, "is among the people who have spent the most and prayed for the release of the woman".

Catholic Khalid Shahzad praises the latest government initiative, which opened a corridor on the border with India to allow Sikh pilgrims to go to the Gurdwara of Kartapur. "The same should also do with Christians, but the State of Israel does not recognize us and our passports are valid for all countries, except Israel".

Finally he concludes: "The protection of minorities is the biggest challenge of Prime Minister Imran Khan. During his first 100 days in power, he did not show much determination in accepting our questions, such as the 5% share in schools and the improvement of [our] social conditions ".