Pope Benedict XVI will have an impromptu meeting on Nov. 17 with Akram Masih Gill, Pakistan’s new Minister for Interfaith Harmony and Minorities Affairs.
“I appreciate His Holiness, he always makes remarks when the minority communities in Pakistan have problems and the minority communities there appreciate his views,” Gill told CNA in Rome on Nov 16.
“I also, on behalf of the government,” he added, “will convey my message to him to do something for Pakistan regarding inter-religious dialogue in Pakistan.”
Gill, a 41 year-old practicing Catholic, has been at his post since August. His appointment followed the assassination of his predecessor, Shahbaz Bhatti, in March. Despite that, Gill said he is not fearful for his life.
“I think that being a Pakistani it is my duty and I have to serve, if there are problems or not,” he said. “I think that if I didn't take this office, who would have done so? I think that the Christian communities need me and the religious minorities need me, therefore I will take this job.”
Bhatti was killed by Muslim extremists earlier this year after he criticized Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws. The laws prohibit disrespectful acts against the Prophet Mohammed and the Quran although human rights campaigners claim they are often abused to generate mob violence against Christians.
“It is our duty to protect minority communities in Pakistan and the constitution of Pakistan provides equal rights to all of the citizens of Pakistan,” Gill said.
To accomplish this, Gill explained how he has been involved in creating a network of “district interfaith harmony committees” across Pakistan consisting of religious leaders and civil authorities. Their aim is to settle any inter-religious disputes before they escalate.
The country’s electoral law was also amended in August to set aside four seats in the 100-seat upper chamber of the Pakistani parliament—the Senate—for non-Muslims.
Over the past few days, Gill has been in Rome meeting with who he called “notable persons” in the Vatican to discuss religious freedom in Pakistan. On short notice, he was told that he will meet personally with Pope Benedict later today to discuss the issue.
Earlier this year, the Pope called for Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to be repealed. The country is 95 percent Muslim with Catholics comprising only 1 percent of the population.