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18 July 2019 - Forced conversions to Islam: an ad hoc measure is urgently needed to protect religious minorities.  "Civil society cannot ignore the responsibility of governors to guarantee all citizens equal access to civil freedom and justice. Today it is essential to introduce ad hoc legislation for the protection of religious minorities in Pakistan, especially to counter the phenomenon of forced conversions to Islam": says the Catholic Peter Jacob, activist for human rights and president of the Center of social justice (CSJ) in Pakistan, to Agenzia Fides, commenting on the recent episodes of violence and abuse committed on young Christian women and other members of minority communities in the nation.

The family of Saima Sardar, a Christian nurse from Faisalabad, who refused to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim, Muhammad Idrees, who killed her, is still in shock. According to data collected by Agenzia Fides sources in Pakistan, the phenomenon of forced conversions officially touches over a thousand girls, Hindus and Christians every year, but these are only the cases reported, which come to light. 
While the outrage of the population for the phenomenon of forced conversions is growing, the Parliament of the province of Sindh yesterday, July 16, unanimously adopted a resolution calling for "this practice to be stopped and for action to be taken against the people involved".
In his conversation with Fides, Jacob notes: "The Commission for minorities in the province of Sindh is still inactive while the federal government and other provincial governments have not yet approved the law to set up special commissions for minority rights", ignoring the provision of the Supreme Court of 19 June 2014. "The federal government should consider issuing anti-conversion laws to curb the sad phenomenon of kidnappings and forced conversions to Islam of Hindu and Christian girls", he said, noting that, for the protection of religious minorities "the political will of decision-makers and institutions is lacking, due to indifference or incompetence".

Lawyer Ali Palh, a well-known human rights activist, expresses to Agenzia Fides his concern about the uncontrolled increase in the incidence of forced conversions and says: "It is time for the government to introduce concrete legal guarantees to prevent marriages and conversions of forced, manipulated or imposed faith", hoping for more careful intervention by the courts. Kalpana Devi, a Hindu activist, agrees and calls for "inter-ministerial coordination and to prevent violence, investigate and prosecute the phenomenon of forced conversions".

Chaman Lal, Hindu activist and scholar of the phenomenon, told Fides: "Forced conversions of minority young women are often accompanied by crimes involving economic injustices, gender-based violence and crimes related to religious freedom. Some influential people promote or facilitate this phenomenon, manipulating the legal procedures with impunity. In addition, in court trials, the outcome of the hearings is in favor of the perpetrators of the violence rather than the victims". (AG-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 17/7/2019)

Published in News
Friday, 05 July 2019 16:36

PAKISTAN Door-to-door evangelization

4 July 2019 - "Baptized and sent": in view of the extraordinary Missionary Month. Door-to-door evangelization: is the initiative of St. John parish in Karachi that has commissioned a group of pastoral workers to visit the homes of parishioners and talk about faith, especially with the baptized who, for various reasons, do not attend the Church assiduously and are on the margins of ecclesial life. "Very often the faithful are urged to take care of the poor, to work for justice and to love God, but few take the task of proclaiming and preaching the Gospel seriously. For various reasons the commitment of Catholics to personally share the fullness of the Gospel seems rather scarce", says to Agenzia Fides Fr. Arthur Charles, parish priest of St. John church. For this reason the parish priest had the idea of sending pastoral workers to a door-to-door evangelization experience, "a completely new vision and concept in Pakistan", he points out, which will be developed in view of the Extraordinary Missionary Month, announced by the Pope for October 2019.

Fr. Arthur Charles, professor of theology, is involved in the formation of future priests and has a long experience of pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Karachi, having also carried out the role of Vicar General. For over 15 years he has been the director of the Catechistic Center of Karachi and from there he has promoted innovative pastoral initiatives and ideas, which also include the use of mass media.

Talking about this latest creative project, Father Arthur Charles said: "We have very few Catholic priests and catechists, while self-proclaimed Pastors of Protestant or evangelical communities often create confusion among the Catholic faithful. We have therefore decided to have a group of young people who offer their time to preach the Word of God".

The parish priest chose 12 men from different walks of life, he prepared them with a specific training course in theology, biblical studies, liturgy, sacraments, pastoral theology. In a solemn "liturgy of the mandate", the 12 were sent, in a holy mass celebrated by Cardinal Joseph Coutts, who recalled the sending of the apostles. "Their main task is to go door to door, visit families who do not attend the Church, recite prayers, read the Gospel of the day with them", explains Fr. Charles. "These pastoral workers can then become catechists or even permanent deacons", he says.

One of the twelve missionaries, Ashraf Francis, told Fides his experience: "We knock on doors, we present ourselves saying that we only want to read the Gospel of the day and recite a prayer at home. Families are very happy and they thank us, or often they tell their suffering or difficulty".

"As missionaries, we knock on doors, greet, listen, read the Gospel, recite a prayer and, if there is an opportunity, we invite people to Mass", said Emmanuel Francis, another of the pastoral workers sent. "The work of evangelization requires great patience and trust in the Holy Spirit, that is the author of the mission", recalls Fr. Charles. Other parishes in Karachi are informing themselves with the intention of replicating the initiative in their territory. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 4/7/2019)

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Friday, 01 March 2019 22:13

PAKISTAN "No to war for Kashmir"

1 March 2019 - Appeal of religious leaders for reconciliation and for a UN mediation. "Let us work together to promote reconciliation and harmony between India and Pakistan. We ask for the opening of a negotiating table, starting with a decisive 'No' to war. We ask the international community to help us: a UN mediation is needed today, to avoid further suffering for the people in Kashmir and find a definitive solution to the old question": says to Agenzia Fides affirms Fr. James Channan, OP, a Pakistani Dominican responsible of the "Peace Center" in Lahore, committed to promoting interreligious dialogue, peace and harmony in society. Channan took part in the conference of religious leaders organized on 28 February in Lahore by Abdul Kabir Azad, imam of the Royal Mosque in Lahore, attended by over 40 Pakistani religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Lahore, Sebastian Shaw, together with other Muslim leaders, Christians from other confessions, Hindus and Sikhs.

The appeal issued at the end of the conference, and sent to Agenzia Fides, reads: "We want to tell the world that we are a peaceful nation. As Pakistanis we are united in asking and promoting peace the reconciliation between India and Pakistan. We will work and do our best for peace, for the good, peace, harmony and prosperity of the nation. To love and protect our country is part of our faith".

"We are worried - the religious leaders continue - because of the current tense situation with India. We do not want the war to upset the coexistence and condemn the Indian military actions carried out on our territory. And we strongly condemn terrorism: the Pakistani population deplores and totally rejects all acts of terrorism and extremism that kill innocent people. We are united in supporting the Pakistani government in its peace efforts. In order to build peace, there is no other way but to meet and sit at the negotiating table, tackling problems with dialogue, especially on the painful issue of Kashmir".

Fr. Channan tells Fides that those present recalled the recent "Islamabad Declaration", in which 300 Pakistani Islamic leaders condemned all instrumental use of religion to instigate hatred and violence, and then agreed on the urgency of involving the United Nations and other actors who can contribute to the mediation between the governments of India and Pakistan, to facilitate the easing of tensions. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 1/3/2019)

Published in News
Friday, 25 January 2019 21:39

PAKISTAN No WYD for young Pakistanis

25 January 2019 - Young Pakistanis blocked in their homeland by the Immigration Office. The Department for Immigration Office at Allama Iqbal airport in Lahore stopped young Catholics who, on 23rd and 24th January, were about to embark to participate in World Youth Day, underway in Panama. As Agenzia Fides learns, the Pakistani Catholic delegation was blocked and 14 young people, provided with a regular visa, were not allowed to travel. Only the Jesuit seminarian Emmanuel was allowed to embark.

Paul Mohan, coordinator of the Catholic Youth Commission of the Diocese of Hyderabad, tells Fides about the misadventure and the bitter disappointment: "On the morning of January 23, we passed the security checks at the airport and collected the boarding passes to reach the Immigration Office. They kept us waiting for more than an hour and then they refused us permission". He continues: "It was a very sad fact for the whole group, we tried a way out, talking with the members of the Office and with the officials of the airlines, we changed the ticket for the following day, paying a penalty and hoping that everything will be clarified. But the next day, the Office stopped us again, even though we all had a regular visa and the letters of accompaniment of the Bishops".

The plane ticket that the young people bought, costs 300,000 Pakistani rupees (about 1,800 euros). Atif Sharif, Coordinator of the "Jesus Youth" movement in Karachi, speaking to Fides said: "It is a valid discrimination: if you meet the criteria, if you have the regular documentation requested by the Consulates of foreign countries and you get a visa, a citizen must be free to leave, among other things, there was a huge investment for a trip abroad, and today our government discriminates against us".

"The right to movement, including the right to travel, is a fundamental right of every citizen, in some cases the government can enter the names of some citizens in the special exit checklist, applying a restriction to prevent expatriation. But if this is not the case, government departments can not prevent people from traveling, if they have all the documents in place", notes Fr. Bonnie Mendes, priest of Faisalabad. Fr. Mendes affirms: "At this point a political and legal battle is needed to protect this right. It is a matter that the Justice and Peace Commission or the Human Rights Commission will have to face".

It is not the first time that Pakistani Christians are denied the right to travel. In 2018 it was the Irish government that refused entry visas for Pakistani Christians who intended to participate in the World Meeting of Families. And in 2011 the Spanish government refused to issue visas for WYD to the youth of Pakistan and Bangladesh. This time the obstacle is the Pakistani government. (AG) (Agenzia Fides, 25/1/2018)

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28 June 2018 – The intervention of the Archbishop of Lahore, Sebastian Francis Shaw: "School teachers play a fundamental role in the promotion of peace in Pakistan, we must offer them the opportunity to learn more and encourage them to continue to be educators of peace: It is very important to have sustainable and lasting peace in society, accepting each other and promoting tolerance". This is what Archbishop of Lahore, Sebastian Francis Shaw, president of the National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism (NCIDE), in the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Pakistan, said during a seminar organized in the last days in Lahore, entitled "Teachers as educators of peace".

As Fides learns, about 40 teachers from 9 different schools in Lahore attended the seminar at St. Mary's School, Lahore. The main purpose of this seminar was to promote peace and harmony in society, introducing the culture of peace in schools, universities and other academic institutions, as Fr. Francis Nadeem, executive secretary of NCIDE explains. Furthermore, the aim was also to develop an understanding of common human values that promote tolerance, mutual acceptance and peaceful coexistence.

There was great interaction and the participants were actively involved in various activities to learn the concepts of peace education. On the first day, those present discussed peace education and its urgency in the current context of Pakistan. Peace education was described as a process of promoting the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to implement behavioral changes that enable children, young people and adults to prevent conflict and violence at home, in schools and workplace. Peaceful resolution of conflicts were discussed and how to create favorable conditions regarding peace.

The concepts of inter-confessionality, harmony and diversity emerged, because all religions emphasize peace, coexistence, respect, tolerance. The concept of interreligious dialogue and its four levels were also stated: dialogue of theological exchange; dialogue of religious experience exchange; dialogue of action and dialogue of daily life. The seminar sought to integrate peace education in the various subjects of the existing school curriculum.

Even Muslim leader Maulana Muhammad Asim Makhdoom was invited as a guest of honor. Muhammad Asim Makhdoom appreciated NCIDE's commitment to promoting peace through education and equipping teachers with the necessary skills. He also said that in the future the teachers of "madrasas" (Islamic schools) and private schools will be able to participate together with similar seminars to promote peace which, he said, should be organized in other parts of the country.

Father Nadeem tells Fides in conclusion: "To eliminate all forms of violence in society, it is the primary responsibility of teachers to propose these values of peace to students through the teaching of school curricula and actively involve them". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 26/6/2018)

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29 April 2018 – An International Meeting will be held in Rome at the Pontifical University Antonianum, on May 4 - 6, 2018.The Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, following a careful and incisive discernment of today's reality in the Church, has started a reflection process upon the diverse meanings being given to the expressions 'consecration' and 'consecrated life'.

An important phase of this process will be the International Conference “Consecratio et consecratio per evangelica consilia” which this Dicastery is organizing at the Pontifical University Antonianum, in Rome. The Congress starts in the afternoon of Thursday May 3 and ends on Sunday May 6, 2018 after lunch (unlike what was written in the Letter addressed to General Moderators).

Our desire is to see members of the diverse Forms of Consecrated Life together with members of lay Associations and Movements involved in the reflection regarding certain issues which were identified during the Seminar which treated the same theme, and in which theologians, canonists and other experts participated.

The Congress will include sessions for all participants and others for specific realities (Ordo virginum, Religious Institutes, Societies of Apostolic Life, Secular Institutes, New Institutes and New Forms, Associations and Movements).

Therefore, we ask the divers vocational realities to take part be sending, at least, a representative of the Leadership team or a delegate together with two other members who may contribute to the discussions. In fact, for an enhanced representativeness, we are asking all Institutes, Associations and Movements to send only three members, possibly from different Countries.

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26 March 2018 - "National Day of Pakistan". Muslims and Christians together for peace, praying for a future made of harmony, reconciliation, prosperity, common well-being: this is how today, March 23, the "Pakistan Day", a national holiday is celebrated in which the entire nation recalls the "Lahore Resolution", passed on March 23, 1940, which sanctioned the future birth of a new nation for the Muslims of India, Pakistan; and also the first Constitution of Pakistan, approved on March 23, 1956, is also commemorated.

As Agenzia Fides learns, the National Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue and Ecumenism, in the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Pakistan, led by Fr. Francis Nadeem OFM Cap, organized a reflection and prayer meeting in Lahore attended by many Muslim and Christian leaders. During the celebration of prayer, presided over by the Archbishop of Lahore, Sebastian Francis Shaw, everyone prayed and committed themselves to promoting inter-religious harmony, peace and progress of the nation. The religious leaders expressed the hope that the armed forces will prevail over the wave of terrorism that causes bloodshed in the country and paid tribute to all those who, in institutions, endeavor and dedicate themselves or oppose extremism, in order to give the population a peaceful life and free from violence. As Fides learns, those present also expressed special prayers for the protection of minorities in the country. "It is urgent to become promoters of peace and harmony not only within our families but also in our neighborhoods, in our cities, so that the dignity of all is respected and peace and goodness prevail in our society. We must be vigilant and remain united against those who wish to separate us", Archbishop Shaw remarked. At the end of the meeting all the participants recited the prayer "God make me an instrument of your peace", attributed to St. Francis of Assisi holding candles in their hands, to symbolize the common effort of reconciliation and unity.

The day before, Fr. Nadeem, held a meeting with Christian and Muslim children in Lahore to commemorate Pakistan's National Day. The children brought flags and posters made by them, praising peace and national harmony. Fr. Francis Nadeem encouraged the children to "be operators of peace not only within their families but also in schools and on the streets, so that peace prevails in society". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 23/3/2018)

Published in News
Friday, 02 March 2018 21:39

CHINA The young people towards the Synod

2 March 2018 - The Year of the Youth opened in the Archdiocese of Tai Yuan, in the province of Shanxi, in the northern part of the People's Republic of China. As Agenzia Fides learns from "Faith", over two thousand young Catholics participated in a solemn inaugural procession, in which great icons of the saints Gregory Maria Grassi OFM, John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta were brought. The special Year, launched by the diocese, will run from February 16th to November 25th 2018 and will be a way to prepare to live the Synod of Bishops dedicated to young people. The general theme of the Year is, in fact, "To seek God, to walk together in the universal Church", theme chosen in harmony with the recommendation of Pope Francis given for the XV Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme "Young people, faith and vocational discernment".

According to the information sent to Agenzia Fides, the solemn celebration of the opening of the Year of Youth, held on 21 February, was presided by Mgr. Paolo Meng Ning You, diocesan Bishop, and concelebrated by 60 priests, in the presence of 5 deacons, 24 seminarians and 28 nuns. In the typical festive atmosphere of youth gatherings, the young people present wrote their messages on a "wall of thoughts" prepared to welcome the reflections, ideas, wishes and spiritual purposes of the young people present, that will live a special time.

The solemn procession was characterized by pale blue and red colors, expressing in this way the hope that the young will follow the footsteps of the saints and martyrs of the Church, growing in faith. As Fr. Lv Xu feng, chancellor of the diocese explained, "pale blue indicates the commemoration of the 160 years of Our Lady of Lourdes; so we invite young people to take the example of Our Lady; red is the color of martyrs, and so we encourage young people to inherit the spirit of martyrdom for the cause of faith". The Year of the young is divided into five stages, each marked by a verse of the Gospel: to search; vocational promotion; the knowledge of the Church; "Alleluia", contest of sacred songs; the hope and the pilgrimage of young people.

Mgr. Paolo Meng says he is very proud of the diocesan Catholic youth and explains: "Faith and vocation are two elements that are well connected.

We must accompany the journey of the young and their vocational discernment in a secularized world. They are the future of the world and of the Church. We have 60 priests who offer pastoral service in the diocese, and another 130 serve in other dioceses or Chinese communities. We are blessed with so many vocations to priesthood. We hope that, thanks to initiatives like this one, dedicated to young people, new vocations of young people can flourish who wish to give themselves to priesthood and to consecrated life. In this way we can continue to send missionaries to the communities that need them". (NZ) (Agenzia Fides, 1/3/2018)

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18 December 2017 - There is not only terrorist violence, gratuitous and destructive that affect religious minorities in Pakistan. The attack on the Methodist Church in Quetta brings to light the difficult condition of religious minorities in Pakistan, especially Christians and Hindus who make up 2% (4 million citizens) and 1% (2.2 million) out ot a population of about 200 million inhabitants.
In order to analyze the conditions and perspectives of religious minorities, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Bahai leaders met in recent days in Karachi, at a conference organized by the "Justice and Peace" Commission (CCJP), a body of the Catholic Episcopal Conference in Pakistan, which has been working for the rights of religious minorities in the country since 1985 (...).

Published in News
Wednesday, 04 October 2017 20:27

PAKISTAN Religious minorities under attack

3rd October 2017 - Christian Washaal Masih and his colleague Bhola Ram of Hindu religion, two humble workers, employed in the town of Behawalnagar, in the South of Pakistani Punjab, were arrested for blasphemy, with alleged charges of burning pages of the Koran. As Legal Evangelical Association Development (Lead), which provides free legal assistance to religious minorities in Pakistan, confirms to Fides, the two worked as cleaners in the Civil Hospital in Behawalnagar, where apparently the blasphemy was committed. The complainant is a policeman who claims to have received a phone call from a local journalist: he informed them that the two, in burning some documents, also burnt some pages containing Coranic verses. The incident occurred on September 27, 2017. The policeman reached the scene and saw a large crowd who provided details of the episode. The policeman arrested the two and filed an official complaint.

"The blasphemy law is a very delicate matter: as in this case, two alleged witnesses blamed the two and were accused of blasphemy. But there is no other documentable proof.

Religious minorities live in constant fear and often hide their faith in order to avoid allegations of blasphemy", noted Christian Lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill, head of the organization “Lead”.

Lead has issued a public appeal calling for the repeal of the law: "The abuse of this law has become common practice in resolving personal disputes. In a recent case, Christian Nadeem James was involved in a case of blasphemy as revenge for marrying a Muslim girl and was sentenced to death. It is time to do something about this iniquitous law", says a note by Lead, sent to Fides.

In the past 12 years, notes the organization, "the situation has deteriorated for religious minorities in Pakistan". Lead lists the main reasons why it calls for the abolition of the blasphemy law in Pakistan: it is incompatible with fundamental human rights; endangers the security of citizens of every religious faith; steps on the basic civil warfare with regard to arrest and detention, as well as the right to a fair trial; violates the right to freedom of religion, religion and expression; destroys the rule of law and the principle of equality; instigates Muslims to attack religious minorities and their settlements, undermining interreligious coexistence in Pakistani society; it is mainly used to resolve personal disputes.

"In addition, in many cases a citizen, even if only accused of blasphemy, is an easy victim of extrajudicial execution at the hands of radical Islamists", noted "Lead", recalling many episodes in the recent history of Pakistan, where entire Christian areas were attacked (in a sort of "mass punishment") only for alleged blasphemy charges to a single Christian. These attacks, it notes, have remained unpunished. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 3/10/2017)

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