Despite overwhelming odds, Catholic faith in Pakistan remains strong, says Bishop

.- Recently, Pakistan’s Bishop Anthony Lobo, head of Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi was in Boston to share a message of hope with local parishioners and Catholic officials.

In one of a series of talks given around the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop Lobo spoke to listeners at Revere’s Immaculate Conception parish about the extreme marginalization of Christians--particularly Catholics--in his home country, and why there is cause for hope.

Only 2 percent of Pakistan is Christian, making for a difficult environment. Of that, only about half are Catholic. Another 2 percent is Hindu, making the remaining 96 percent strongly Muslim.

According to the Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston’s newspaper, Bishop Lobo stressed that “Christians are marginalized in our society.” In his own diocese, which includes the country’s volatile Kashmir region, he said “the general attitude was not very friendly toward Christians.”

Because Christianity is a predominantly western religion, the bishop said, the Church bears the stigma of “belonging to the west.”

“We are the scapegoats”, he said, “for all the offences committed by the West.” He pointed specifically to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9-11 when Al-Queda charged its members to kill two Christians for every Muslim killed in the invasion.  

There are signs of hope however. Following 2005’s devastating earthquake in the region, the Catholic Church was one of the first to respond. Because of the generosity of the Church throughout the world and the swift action of his own diocese in its response, attitudes are beginning to change.

According to the Pilot, Bishop Lobo also pointed to other steps being made which should give Christians cause for hope.

In 1972, all schools in Pakistan were nationalized, meaning Christian schools had to close their doors. That began to change in 1992 and now, the bishop says, nearly all schools which were forced to close have re-opened.

Likewise, pressure from the Church recently helped defeat a bill in Pakistan’s parliament which would have imposed Sharia, or Islamic law on the country.

The nation’s first Catholic University is even set to open in fall of 2007.

The Pilot pointed out that Bishop Lobo has been a strong defender of families and advocate for the priesthood in his diocese. He recently founded a seminary in the country and said that “the happiest time in my life is when I am teaching those young men.”

Following his trip to Boston at the end of June, Bishop Lobo traveled to Valencia, Spain to attend the recent World Meeting for Families.

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