09/14/2004, 00.00
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Christians urge Prime Minister to protect religious minorities

by Qaiser Felix

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – A delegation of Catholic and Protestant leaders met Pakistan's new Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Islamababad. Among the issues discussed was the protection of religious minorities and their role in the country's school system. Mgr Joseph Coutts, Bishop of Faisalabad, talked to AsiaNews about the meeting.

First of all, the delegation congratulated Prime Minister Aziz for winning the confidence of the National Assembly and for restoring the Joint Electorate System. "Thanks to this electoral system we can work with our fellow Pakistanis for the development of the country and ensure that Christians are no longer marginalised," the Bishop said.

Aziz stressed the common values that both Islam and Christianity share. "We should work together to promote these values", he said. The Prime Minister also expressed his appreciation for Christians' contribution to the country's educational system and recalled for his guests his student days at Karachi's Catholic Saint Patrick's College and Rawalpindi's Protestant Gordon College.

The 1972 nationalisation of Christian schools was also discussed. "Unfortunately, [. . .] many of our institutions were returned only in 2002. So we lost a whole generation, "Bishop Coutts said. "We asked the Prime Minister to return to the Churches the few remaining schools and colleges still under direct control of the provinces of Punjub and Sindh," he added.

The Christian delegation urged Aziz to appoint a federal minister for minorities who could help "our people contribute to the development of the country".

At the end, Bishop Coutts said, the delegation "thanked the Prime Minister for the opportunity he gave us to meet him and told him that we and our faithful thanked God for sparing his life (in a terrorist attack) just before the recent elections."

The delegation included Mgr Anthony Lob, Bishop of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and Secretary General of Pakistan's Catholic Bishops' Conference, Mgr Joseph Coutts, Bishop of Faisalabad and vice president of Pakistan's Catholic Bishops' Conference, and Mgr Andrew Francis, Bishop of Multan. Protestants were represented by Bishops Azad Marshal and Samuel Pervez of Pakistan's National Council of Churches. Also present were Fr Nadeem Francis and Fr Inayat Bernard as well Shaukat Masih, Robin Daniel and Member of the National Assembly Mushtaq Victor.

Pakistan's population is close to 144 million, 96.1 per cent Muslim. Christians are about 1.28 million or 2.5 per cent of the total.

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