Lahore, Pakistan, Jun 13, 2015 / 15:03 pm
Thousands of faithful gathered to crown Mary at a parish of the Lahore archdiocese last month, bringing prayers for peace, forgiveness and restored cultural harmony in a region where some churches have suffered violent attacks.
Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore presided at the May 30 Coronation Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the city of Gujranwala, about 50 miles west of Lahore.
The May Crowning drew a congregation of over 2,500 faithful, including several priests and religious.
Asif Nazir, a catechist and a member of the parish choir, reflected on the event.
"When a part of the region is battling a constant fight between goodness and evil, terror and hatred, it is our strong faith and devotion that draws us to our dear Mother Mary the Queen of Peace, our protector to bring peace in our land," Nazir told CNA June 11.
"Whatever the situation in which we find ourselves, hardship, disappointment, confusion, God has a solution, an answer that is right for us," he said.
Fr. Francis Chaman, the parish priest of St. Joseph's Church, welcomed Archbishop Shaw.
The archbishop in his homily thanked God for the gift of faith and for the devotion of the people. He underlined the virtues of the Virgin Mary and noted her obedience in saying "Yes" to God and accepting God's will.
Archbishop Shaw said Mary's religious upbringing and her faithfulness to God have set an example for all humanity.
He told congregants "it is our responsibility to educate and bring up our children with the same faith and help them follow the footsteps of Mary, so that they may always be willing to serve God and fulfill his mission."
Archbishop Shaw praised the unity of faith. He urged the parishioners not to cultivate hatred or envy. Rather, they should practice virtue of forgiveness and "learn how to say sorry to others."
"Today, I'm sure that God will give us courage to change ourselves and our environment in our homes... which will surely bring joy, not only to us but to our future generations," the archbishop continued.
At the end of Mass, a group of school children, with help from several Sisters of Charity, presented the life of the Virgin Mary with hymns inspired by the Gospels.
Fr. Chaman and Fr. Jahanzeb Iqbal, an assistant priest at the parish, led the parishioners by preparing the catechesis, the choir and the recitation of the rosary.
Fr. Chaman praised the parishioners' efforts and voiced thanks for support from parish workers, the Dominican Sisters, the Sisters of Charity, and catechists who helped prepare for the liturgy and decorate the altar.
Pakistan is no stranger to religious violence. Several Christian churches have been bombed in the past. During the May Crowning, officers from the Punjab police kept watch and maintained security.
St. Joseph's Catholic Church is one of the 26 parishes in the Archdiocese of Lahore and one of its oldest mission stations. It was founded by Capuchin Franciscan missionaries from Belgium in 1953. It draws from urban and rural communities.
Nazir pointed out that the Blessed Virgin Mary is also respected by the Islamic community and she is mentioned in Muslim scriptures. Locally, she is called "Hazrat Maryam."
This respect is evident at the Lahore archdiocese's National Marian Shrine at Mariamabad. The major pilgrimage center draws thousands of devotees of all religions and has become a hub for interreligious dialogue.
Pilgrims line up in processions at the shrine to pray, light candles and leave flowers, while many miracles are attributed to prayers at the shrine.