The new Archbishop of Lahore, Pakistan, has asked people to pray that he has “courage and faith,” stressing the need for justice and respect between religions.
“There is not much peace in Pakistan,” Archbishop Sebastian Shaw told Aid to the Church in Need Feb. 10, ahead of his Feb. 14 installation.
He voiced his commitment to have more meetings with other faith leaders and to increase training programs for teachers, catechists, parents and women to help them learn about their rights and responsibilities.
“There is an urgent need for greater equality and social justice and for peace,” he added. “The Church should be a visible sign of our commitment to this and we can only move forward by lives of service.”
The Archdiocese of Lahore has as many as 600,000 Catholics, about half of all Catholics in Pakistan. Christians and other religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims and Ahmadiyya Muslims, suffer persecution, violence and discrimination in the country.
Archbishop Shaw said that interfaith cooperation, ecumenical dialogue and outreach through television are important in developing social harmony. He plans to launch a cable channel initiative called “Catholic TV Lahore” to broadcast 12 or more hours each day.
He said that people must “feel the need for peace.”
“They will see that peace comes when we have justice,” he stressed.
“What we need is to learn to respect one another – to realize that we are all Pakistanis, whether we are Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Hindus.”
Archbishop Shaw, a Franciscan, has been the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator since Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha stepped down in 2011.
Archbishop Shaw was installed as head of the Lahore archdiocese at a Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral led by Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the apostolic nuncio to Pakistan. All of Pakistan’s bishops attended.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has said that Pakistan should be classified as a Tier 1 “country of particular concern,” the worst category of offender against religious liberty. The commission’s 2013 report cited “chronic” sectarian and religiously motivated violence in the country, as well as the Pakistan government perpetrating and tolerating “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”
The predominantly Muslim country’s strict anti-blasphemy laws have led to death sentences for some Christians, including a mother of five named Asia Bibi, who remains in prison.
Controversy over the blasphemy law resulted in the 2011 assassinations of Punjab governor Salman Taseer and of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic who was the national Minister for Minorities and the first Christian in the national cabinet.