08/12/2016, 11.30
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Bishops of Pakistan: The country must rediscover its roots of tolerance and respect for minorities

by Kamran Chaudhry

On National Minorities Day, Msgr. Arshad Joseph, bishop of Faisalabad, calls for "non-Muslim groups to be included as part of society in recognition of their merits". The Archbishop of Lahore says that "the founder of Pakistan had promised respect for all religions, but now we are in the throes of intolerance".

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Non-Muslim citizens "have played a vital role in the formation of Pakistan. Not only they gave their lives for freedom but still continue to fight for nation building. This is why their concerns must be addressed by the government”, said Msgr. Arshad Joseph, bishop of Faisalabd and president of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, during the celebration of the National Minorities Day yesterday.

In 2009, thanks to the work of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani government decided to establish the Minorities Day to honor the service and sacrifice made by these communities (Hindu, Christian and Sikh) to the nation.

On the occasion of 69th anniversary of the historic speech of Mohammad Ali Jinnah - the founder of modern Pakistan – to the Constitutive Assembly of the newborn State (1947), the Government of Punjab and the Department for Human Rights and Minorities organized a day of meetings, songs and speeches to honor the non-Muslim communities (see videos). They were attended by thousands of religious, parish employees, Hindu and Sikh leaders.

Speaking at the Lahore Arts Council, Msgr. Arshad said: "We know that Pakistan is going through a difficult phase in its history. Religious intolerance and neglect in society have created a sense of hopelessness among the people. Minorities must be included as an integral part of society”.

Msgr. Sebastian Shah, Archbishop of Lahore, spoke on the subject from the pages of the bimonthly magazine of the Archdiocese. In the message, the prelate recalled that the founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah "assured the Christian leaders that every person in Pakistan would have a free life in accordance with their religion and that the state would have no problem with religions. As we celebrate the day of our independence [August 14th ed] we must think about which direction our country is taking”.

Zakia Shahnawaz, Muslim Provincial Minister for Higher Education, supported the bishops' appeals, but said that "Muslims can not stop terrorism alone. Our hearts cry together every time a suicide bomber blows himself up and kills everyone. We need to look together for solutions to these problems”.

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