New Pakistani bishops president: 'Christians in danger from growing intolerance'
Msgr Samson Shukardin, bishop of Hyderabad, elected to lead the Bishops' Conference. He tells AsiaNews about the mission's priorities, starting from the defence of a minority that is 'too often the victim of abuse'. Countering the distortions linked to the blasphemy laws and accompanying married couples to counter the escalation of divorces.
Lahore (AsiaNews) - "My priority will be to resolve issues related to the very survival of the Christian community," underlines Msgr. Samson Shukardin, bishop of the diocese of Hyderabad, Sindh province to AsiaNews.
The prelate was elected last week as the new president of the Pakistani Bishops' Conference, succeeding Msgr. Joseph Arshad, who completed his three-year mandate. Together with the country's bishops, he indicated as his primary task the improvement of the living conditions of a reality that is too often the victim of abuse and violence in the workplace and in everyday life. “Intolerance,” he warns, “has increased in society, so there is a desperate need for religious harmony and peace.”
The Christian community, the clergy and religious women welcome the new president and hope for positive changes, combined with a development of the life of the Church and a greater presence in the community.
Among the primary challenges is that of limiting - or countering - abuses linked to blasphemy laws, often used to settle personal disputes or attack other people with false accusations.
A phenomenon that does not only concern Christians, but is present in many sectors of Pakistani society and which ends up affecting the weakest fringes of the population. “There are so many false cases of blasphemy against innocent Christians,” he states, “just to settle personal scores and vested interests. My mission is to raise my voice and give relief to innocent victims."
Another unresolved and urgent issue is that of girls - often minors - kidnapped and forcibly converted to other religions, most often at the hands of "the majority reality" [Muslim, ed.] in Pakistan. “We must ask state institutions - states the prelate - to take these cases very seriously, to bring the guilty behind bars and to give justice to the families and girls who are victims. Only with the help of government institutions can we resolve these problems and the Episcopal Conference will continue to make its voice heard for the rights of the Christian community."
Finally, the new president has set the world of young people and married couples as his last priority, to try to offer them greater opportunities.
“We need to make them strong so that they can contribute to a better future of the community. The life of our families is desperate and the divorce rate is increasing day by day; to deal with this problem we must work on marriage preparation before the wedding. Couples should be sensitized enough to lead a happy and blessed life after marriage. I will do my best - concludes Msgr. Shukardin - to work in the name of 'justice' for the Christian community and to highlight the problems of innocent people who are targeted only because of their faith."
Fr Bonnie Mendes, former executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistani Bishops' Conference and former head of Caritas Asia, is "happy" with the appointment, because being originally from Sindh he "brings with him the concerns of rural areas" .
Fr. Khalid Rashid Asi, diocesan director of the Justice and Peace Commission, thanks Msgr. Arshad for the work done so far at the helm of the episcopal conference in which he created various "diocesan offices".
“Bishop Samson – he says – is a very cultured person and also knows the law, I think that under his guidance the Episcopal Conference will flourish and will do its best for the improvement of the Christian community”. He will have to "play a prophetic role and will have to give his best."
For the priest, the episcopal conference under the leadership of the bishop of Hyderabad will have to "build a constructive relationship with the government and state departments, in order to help us solve our problems".
Finally, in his role as president of Justice and Peace, he concludes Fr. Khalid, "I hope he gives his best for the prevalence of justice and that he guides, as a good shepherd, the entire community towards a better future".