09/29/2018, 10.07
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Card. Coutts: Pakistan Christians 'living witnesses of faith and salvation for all'

by Anna Chiara Filice

The Archbishop of Karachi takes possession his titular Church today in the Roman parish of San Bonaventura di Bagnoregio. The Pakistani Church "is small in numbers but not hidden, its role is fundamental in the field of education and health". To prefer the "dialogue of life" to dialogue made up only of words; learn to know each other; do not impose your faith on the other.


Rome (AsiaNews) - The Pakistani Church is "a small but not silent Church; that does not have many resources and therefore must make choices. But one thing is certain: it must focus on the education of young people ", Cardinal Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Karachi tells AsiaNews.

The Cardinal is set to  take possession of his titular Church the parish of San Bonaventura da Bagnoregio, in the Roman district of Torre Spaccata. We meet him on the sidelines of the celebrations, in an atmosphere of feverish anticipation. "We are a visible Church, which undoubtedly has various problems and is subject to discrimination. We are a Church that witnesses Christ in a practical way and helps everyone. Because in a country with a Muslim majority, the only way to be Christian is to witness faith in everyday life: if we want salvation for us, we want it for everyone ".

Regarding Pope Francis' decision to elevate him cardinal, he says: "I did not expect this decision, I could not believe it. It was a total surprise ". However, he is sure, "my role does not change. I will continue to take care of the Archdiocese of Karachi, the education sector and the health sector. I will be multi-tasking, because the resources are few and the priests are missing. I have a full agenda, and I will continue to fill it with new tasks ".

According to the Cardinal, Pope Francis "desires an ever more universal Church, which reaches the margins of society, arriving in the peripheries. Pakistan is a populous country with almost 200 million inhabitants. Here the Catholics are a small minority, about 1.5 million. But we are not hidden, we make our voices heard. Our role in the development of the country is much larger than small numbers ".

The role of Christians; the "dialogue of life" with the Muslims

Card. Coutts refers to the contribution of Christians in the fields of education, medical care and assistance, to help the sick, the disabled and drug addicts. In this regard, he cites the figure of Dr. Ruth Pfau, nun of the Family of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who died in 2017 at the age of 87. The religious, known by the nickname "Pakistan's Mother Teresa", has opened 157 centers across the country, where 12,000 patients with tuberculosis are treated every year. Thanks to her service, Pakistan "has also controlled the spread of leprosy".

As for education, "in the Christian schools have studied many civil leaders, state employees and members of the armed forces". The Church is at the forefront also "in relief operations during natural disasters or floods, which are very common, or in the reception of refugees. Through Caritas we bring help everywhere, without making a distinction between Christians and non-Christians. Our help is for everyone ". The reason for this commitment is simple: "Our task as Christians is to give our lives for others, not like the terrorists who instead take their lives away".

The cardinal does not hide the climate of growing Islamic extremism in the country: "We live in a milieu permeated by relationships between the faithful of different religions. The only way to dialogue with a majority that professes a different faith is not 'dialogue in words', but the 'dialogue of life'. We must recognize one another and learn to appreciate each other, like men and women living together. We must also learn that what we do is not only for ourselves, but also for others ".

Education as a means for dialogue and to combat the exploitation of young people

Card. Coutts speaks of "dialogue of life" because he believes it is the only way to spread a culture of tolerance in a country with a high rate of illiteracy. 

He says "We can not expect that the culture of dialogue is spread only through the study centers, where intellectuals and academics meet. We must not forget that most of the population lives in villages, where pamphlets printed in cultural centers do not arrive ". 

He  underlines, "it is fundamental to focus on education. It is the key to preventing exploitation in the workplace and the slavery of certain economic sectors. For example, in agriculture the farmer does not own the land and is forced to borrow the landowner to buy the seeds. The farmer then has a percentage of the income from the harvest, which will never be sufficient to repay the debt contracted and to earn enough money to send the children to school ".

To overcome all this, the Pakistani Church focuses on education, "to defuse that vicious circle between illiteracy that favors exploitation and ignorance that encourages the spread of extremist ideas". This does not mean, highlights, "impose on one's own religion or try to convert. Muslims are proud of their faith, which is also part of their cultural identity. They react with a closing attitude when they feel that their religion is being questioned. We must be present by propagating inclusion ideas. And we have to do it through education, but resources are limited and we have to decide how to use them to the fullest. Christians belong to the lower strata of society, there are few doctors and few priests. We have a lot to do".

Finally he concludes with a thought on religious intolerance: "It has grown in recent years, the public debate is increasingly politicized and  there are several extremist groups in the country. Those who try to change the situation, such as those who demand the abolition of the blasphemy law, are usually dismissed. But we will not give up".

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