Fr. Peter Woodruff: How do you see the future of the Catholic Church in Pakistan?
Fr. Pascal Robert: I am optimistic for a few reasons. We are witnessing a steady transition from foreign to local leadership. In our local Church I feel that we are in a moment of vibrant faith, as witnessed by the existence of a ferment expressed in many theological and religious publications and the existence of numerous grassroots pastoral centers. Our being Christian is part of our identity and so to challenge our religion is to challenge our existence. We live and breathe our Christian faith.
Being a religious minority prompts us to become aware of who we are. We realize that we Creatively Hopeful cannot take for granted our being Christian. It is a fact of our lives that makes a signifi cant difference. The growth of Islamic fundamentalism does not derail us but rather makes us go back to the core of our faith. We feel challenged to be more conscious of our faith, to put in more time and effort to study and understand our faith.
All feel this challenge, even more so among lay men and women who live in the midst of society. We priests live in a protected environment, but lay people live and work in a Muslim world, which is friendly and tolerant in nonreligious areas of life, but often fanatical in religious matters.
We Christians have to be able to explain our religion in a non-offensive way. If we give offense intentionally or unintentionally, we run the risk of being taken to court and condemned on the basis of the “Blasphemy Law.” The Muslim majority is not at risk in this way. What are some of the things being done by the local Church to strengthen the faith of lay Catholics?
Fr. Pervaiz Gulzar: The NCIT has taken three initiatives in this area. We run a three-year program in which lay Catholics in the Karachi area can enroll and obtain a “Certificate of Theological Studies.” Students study a variety of courses, such as Bible, dogmatic and moral theology, church history and catechesis. They attend four hours of class per week. Every two months we run a theological seminar on a topic of current interest. Seminarians who are in their fi nal year of studies, with the help of one professor, prepare the seminar. Two to four hundred people attend. We have worked on topics such as the following: the treasure of the Church – not constructing buildings and institutions, but building up the People of God; the importance of the Bible in lives of people immersed in Pakistani society; the role of liturgy in the growth of the Church; the call of the laity and the challenges of the faith for mission.
We run a refresher session twice a month for catechists from the Karachi diocese. This month the topic was, “The importance of dialogue with other religions according to Vatican II.” Of course, we focus on dialogue with Islam. We have expressed openness to dialogue, but Muslims don’t take dialogue as complementary. Rather they feel that it implies that whoever wants it is lacking something. (Ed. Note: Fr. Pascal is the spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Karachi in the area of Christian/Muslim dialogue.) Another Karachi based organization, The Catholic Catechetical Center, is also active in the formation of laity, which is a top priority for the Archdiocese of Karachi.
How does the Pakistani Catholic Church contribute to the development of Pakistani society? Fr. Pervaiz Gulzar: In many parts of Pakistan the Catholic Church has organized ministries to the poor without discrimination. As a developing country with few nationally organized social welfare services, we have responded to the need by taking initiatives in a variety of fields, the most significant being schools, but also hospitals and medical centers, centers for skills training, homes for seniors and disabled, many projects for the improvement of agricultural methods, credit cooperatives, emergency relief especially in the time of floods and human rights commissions. The basic purpose of our welfare work is to empower people for life. For example, in the case of flood relief, we help flood victims get back on their feet. Other projects, such as schools, seek to empower people to better take on life’s challenges.
While our welfare ministries require a major commitment of personnel and resources, a constant and, in the long term, the most significant Catholic Church contribution to Pakistani society is our commitment to an ongoing “Dialogue for Harmony.” Orchestrating this dialogue is a continuous creative task. The main protagonists of this dialogue are our lay people who live and work in a society that is far from harmonious. We do our best to equip and motivate them for this task that will continue to be unfinished business well beyond our lifetime.