Catholic evangelization, outreach initiatives and charitable work in Pakistan are continuing in the face of opposition from Muslim hard-liners and the country’s harsh laws punishing those found guilty of insulting Islam, according to Bishop of Hyderabad Max Rodrigues. The Church’s uplifting view of women and a recent translation of the Bible into the local language have assisted such efforts in the southeastern province of Sindh.
Speaking in an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Rodrigues said, “The task of evangelization in a theocratic country, strongly Islamicized… is a difficult thing, but in my diocese there is a large tribal apostolate.”
The bishop said that Catholic pastoral work was revolutionizing attitudes towards women, which he said is a key part of the Church’s appeal.
“The pastoral teams have changed the way that people think, and uplifted the status of women – women were seen as chattel, they had never sent girls to school as didn’t see the value in educating them, but now they send them to school as well,” he told Aid to the Church in Need.
Another important development is the ACN Child’s Bible, translated into the local language and distributed in the country two years ago.
“It is a most beautiful thing to have a Child’s Bible in Sindhi, as most people speak Sindhi as well as their tribal language. Adults can read it and understand it,” Bishop Rodrigues said.
Church outreach takes place in the face of state discrimination against non-Muslims and strict blasphemy laws whose punishment theoretically involves life imprisonment and even death for those who are convicted of insulting Mohammed or abusing the Qur’an.
Such laws are “like a sword dangling over our heads,” the bishop said. “You have to defend yourself. They don’t have to prove the accusation – their honesty is considered to be enough as they are Muslim.”
“Many of these cases don’t even reach the courts. It is announced at the local mosque and then the mobs come,” he continued.
Two years ago in the Sindh town of Sukkur, two churches, a convent and a school were attacked after a Christian convert to Islam accused his father-in-law of burning pages of the Qur’an.
Parishioners from the attacked St. Mary’s Church are still meeting in a partially damaged school hall and have seen no progress on plans to rebuild their 19th-century church building.