Pakistan – Offering the Hand of Peace

In Pakistan Christians face daily insults and threats to life and limb. These range from people spitting on pictures of the Pope, to them burning Christians alive.

Yet despite this, or rather precisely because of this, the Catholic bishops are striving to promote inter religious dialogue. They have established a programme of education in values and confidence building, based on love, reconciliation and peace. It is aimed above all at the younger generation. There are talks in the Koran schools, joint workshops with young Muslims and discussions with community leaders and mayors to promote peaceful coexistence. For now this is a pilot project in the diocese of Multan. The bishops are pinning considerable hopes on it. We have promised our support.

Avery different project is ongoing in the diocese of Lahore. The Christians here are among the poorest of the poor. In the city of Kasur, in the parish of Nizam Pura, they live in slums and hutments and 80% of them are illiterate. Their self-esteem is minimal and they are treated like slaves. ‘Almost every day begins with a tragic piece of news’, writes Father Basharat, their parish priest. ‘Somebody murdered, a girl abducted, a young boy beaten to death, a house torched…’. The hopes of the 110 Catholic families are centred on the Church. Here they rediscover their dignity; here they learn the Commandments and the Catechism, and sing God’s praises. But their ageing church is in a poor state now. The rain leaks in, the walls are cracked, the floor is damp and mouldy. Would you care to help us with the amount they need to restore this centre to new dignity?

This article can be found in Mirror 0213.

Christ’s solidarity with the 'Untouchables'

Christians in India celebrated Dalit Liberation Sunday on the 11th December last by renewing their commitment to those of Dalit origin who still suffer from the traditional practice of untouchability.

In traditional Hindu thinking, Dalits are not quite human: they are denied the right to enter the temple, read, or eat with members of other castes. Moreover a person who touches a Dalit must immediately purify himself. Sadly as was pointed out by one Christian Missionary: “When it comes to social life, they are untouchable. For rape however they are touchable.”

Within the traditional Hindu mindset, to be Dalit is much worse than being poor. No matter how much education or wealth a Dalit acquires she or he will always remain polluted and a shame on the face of the earth. In many respects Dalits are like biblical lepers, except that while lepers are cured in the bible, within mainstream Indian culture, Dalits cannot be healed.

Notwithstanding the fact that India’s economy is large, fast growing and in many sectors highly competitive, poverty is widespread. India in fact has a dual economy on the one hand, modern technological and fast-paced, on the other, traditional, agrarian and poorly educated.

More than 40% of the Indian population are living below the poverty line. According to World Bank estimates, one third of the entire world’s poor live in India. Dalits accounting for somewhat over 15% of the total Indian population (between 150 and 160 million people) are numbered amongst the poorest of these poor.

Dalit Liberation Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday nearest to International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in association with the National Council of Churches in India strongly supports this annual celebration.

In a statement released by the Catholic bishops to mark Dalit Liberation Sunday 2011, note was made that “Indian society is still under the grip of caste culture that perpetuates ethos, attitudes, structures of inequality and dehumanizing untouchable practices.”  

“Contrary to the Gospel vision of Christ, the ‘caste mentality’ violates the God-given dignity and equality of the human person. Human dignity and respect are due to every human person and any denial of this is a sin against God and a disservice to humanity.”

A ‘confident, strong and vibrant’ Catholic Church in India is actively engaged in trying to transform a dominant culture which seeks to deny millions of people of their God-given dignity which is the fundamental basis of all human rights.

Article is an amended version of a Zenit News Agency article.

This article can be found in Mirror 0212.

The marvel of Samir’s homecoming - Pakistan

The fact that Samir is still alive is, in itself, a miracle. Never before in Pakistan has an abducted child been returned to his family. Just a week after his homecoming Samir made his First Holy Communion.

More than anything, nine-year-old Samir loves playing with his kite. He’s always flying it on the road outside the Catholic Cathedral in Lahore. That is what he was doing on that fateful 23 October. But on that day his parents waited for him to return home in vain. A security camera, that had been installed to protect the cathedral, showed him being abducted by a bearded, white-robed man. His parents were beside themselves, for Samir’s little sister had already been killed in an earlier bomb attack on the cathedral. The whole parish prayed fervently for a miracle, but they all knew that children abducted like this are taken to Afghanistan to be used as suicide bombers. Either that, or their limbs are hacked off so that they can be used to extort money by the Mafia. Not one such victim has ever returned alive. But Father Andrew Nisari believes in miracles. He kept encouraging the parents, saying “Your son will return!”

Samir himself can remember only the sponge that was held over his nose. Then everything went black. Ten days later he found himself with his abductor beside the River Indus, somewhere in the region of Peshawar on the frontier with Afghanistan. “Let’s just see how deep the water is,” the man said to him. “I’m afraid; I don’t want to die,” the youngster replied. “No, I’ll hold your hand”, said the kidnapper. Then, as Samir continued to struggle, the man simply threw him into the water and made off. Father Andrew believes that his abductor just wanted to get rid of the boy, since the case had been publicised on television and the business was getting too dangerous for the man. But little Samir did not drown. He was able to cling to some bamboo stems and drag himself back onto dry land. Then he ran and ran. On a house in Peshawar he saw a poster with a picture of Mariamabad, the Pakistani Marian shrine. “Please take me there, to those people”, he said to a Muslim mullah, who had stopped to help him. Around midnight that night the phone rang at Samir’s family home. Soon they were all beside themselves with joy. That same night his father set out to fetch his son from Peshawar. As they were still on their way home, Samir telephoned Father Andrew. “What about my First Holy Communion?”, he asked him.

The next day Samir arrived home. The whole parish turned out to meet him and everyone was in tears, even Father Andrew. A week later Samir made his First Holy Communion. This year he will once again be able to join the parish pilgrimage to Mariamabad to sing Our Lady’s praises. Last year everyone had missed the sound of his voice.

Eva-Maria Kolmann

This article can be found in Mirror 0212.

May My Great God Give Them Strength

In the countries of the post-Soviet era the scars of communism run deep in many souls. In those countries where Christians were always a tiny minority it is particularly difficult for Christians to live their faith in everyday life as well.

In Kazakhstan there is a strong Muslim element in the population. In the diocese of the Holy Trinity in Almaty there are 16 Religious Sisters and two Religious Brothers. They provide a very thorough teaching to the children and young people in their care. For the only protection against the prejudices of the world around them lies in sound arguments and prayer. 10-year-old Anja spent two years with the Sisters, preparing for her First Holy Communion. “When the day finally came, and Jesus was within me, I understood that I was following in the footsteps of Mary. In my First Confession it was hard for me to acknowledge my sins, for I felt ashamed. But I knew that it was necessary, so that Jesus could enter into a pure heart. And when I received him, my God, I had a thousand things to ask him.”

Tolik, who is 12, lives alone with his mother. Ever since the summer camp with the parish he has been attending Mass regularly. “I am happy, now that I am an altar server. Since I began to pray, I have also taught my mother one or two prayers. She says I have changed since I started going to church, and that I am more obedient now.” But without our financial support the Sisters cannot continue their teaching work, nor can the brothers organise the summer camps. We have promised them to help.

On the other side of the world, in Bolivia and Peru, the Little Sisters of the Helpless and Elderly care for lonely old people in special homes. Pedro Oliver, who is 86, is so happy and thankful for this that he ends his letter with the words “Long live the old people’s home!” 89-year-old Isaac, a former singer, became a widower at an early age, and then lost his son, who died of cancer. The Sisters took him in, and very soon he was singing again. “I love going to the chapel and praying to my great God, as I always call him, and I pray for the Sisters too, asking my great God to give them strength to stay faithful to the path they have chosen.” He signs his letter “Isaac, taken into the home by the Little Sisters of the Helpless and Elderly”.

Anibal Ovidio, who is 86, was a craftsman and still helps wherever he can. He also looks after the sacristy and is happy to take on any task. His “only sorrow” is “the ingratitude of my children – but then maybe I wasn’t such a good father either”. But he tells the Sisters they must not be sad when he dies, although for him it will be hard enough to have to leave this place of peace one day, he says. The Sisters’ request is modest indeed. Altogether, in these two countries, there are 243 Sisters working in such homes, the last earthly home for many aged and lonely people. Ours could be the arms through which God reaches out to help them. It is up to us.

This article can be found in Mirror 0112.