08/18/2005, 00.00
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Pakistani Catholic youth do not get visas for WYD

by Qaiser Felix

Despite guarantees from the diocese, the vicar-general and the bishop, the German Embassy in Pakistan has denied hundreds of visas to those who wanted to attend the twentieth World Youth Day.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Young Pakistani Catholics "do not enjoy full freedom of worship" and their presence in Cologne for the twentieth World Youth Day is "seriously restricted" by the attitude of the German Embassy in Pakistan.

Many hold that the German Embassy's refusal to grant visas is linked to terrorist alerts in recent weeks and to ties between some terrorist cells in Europe and Pakistan.

Kamal Chugtai, president of the Jesus and Mary Youth Group of Faisalbad Diocese, explained: "To be able to go to Germany for the WYD, we fulfilled all the requirements demanded by the German Embassy in Pakistan and our hosts in Germany did the same, but the embassy denied visas to 15 members of our group without giving any reasons for doing so.

"After a first refusal from the German Embassy, we asked again and the embassy officials requested more papers, including a guarantee from the diocese (although we had already presented a recommendation letter from our bishop). Our vicar-general, Fr Parvez Emmanuel, went to the embassy in person to make a request for visas for our group but unfortunately the embassy refused again. I believe Christians in Pakistan do not enjoy full freedom of worship."

Kaleem John, secretary-general of the Group, said: "Our group was enthusiastic about the idea of the trip to Cologne and we had been preparing eagerly for the last six months, fervently waiting to celebrate the Eucharist with the new German Pontiff in his home country. But the embassy's negative response bulldozed all our enthusiasm.

"I believe it was a great step forward by Pakistani Catholic youth to respond by saying 'yes' to the appeal of the great Pontiff [John Paul II – ed.note] to participate in such great international events of prayer and spirituality. Pakistani Catholic youth have very limited resources and there is no doubt this great activity would have been an unforgettable moment in their spiritual lives. It's a basic right of anyone to choose to attend whatever events they wish, and I am sure it is a positive and encouraging thing that youth are taking such an interest in religion."

Fr Khanlid Rashid Asi, diocesan youth director in Faisalabad and group leader of the Bishops' Conference's official delegation for WYD 2005 told AsiaNews that for their group too, getting visas for Germany "had not been easy". "We asked for 12 visas for our group but they only gave 11," he said. "One person from the Diocese of Arch in Karachi was refused without any explanation given.

Two people were supposed to leave for Germany on 12 August for technical reasons but the embassy – once again without saying why – denied permission and gave 11 visas from 15 to 22 August."

Fr Asi said the youths of his delegation had been chosen on the basis of their knowledge of English and activities undertaken throughout the year. The National Youth Commission of Pakistan covered all the costs. "Hundreds of youths asked for visas to go to Cologne on their own but unfortunately they did not manage to get them."

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