Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bishop Lobo on Christians in Pakistan

The Word From Rome : "Bishop Anthony Lobo of Islamabad, Pakistan...said there is a case for optimism in what he sees as a growing openness, at least in official circles in Pakistan, to the Christian minority.

As examples, he pointed to the fact that Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the country's president, has reformed the system of national elections to give Christians a greater voice, and has patronized Christian schools. In a small but telling move, Lobo said that Musharraf every year hosts a Christmas dinner, officially billed as such, and on the menu lists "Christmas turkey" and "Christmas pudding" -- seemingly trivial but telling gestures from the head of state in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.

Lobo also said he was encouraged when a group of female Muslim students, fully veiled, recently came to him for information on a research project on the Catholic charismatic renewal. That suggests, he said, a new level of interest among Muslims in understanding Christianity. At the same time, Lobo conceded, there is much work yet to be done.

For one thing, he said, most young Muslims recruited by terrorist groups come not from the national university, but from the madras system, where, he said, young Muslims are taught that "all Christians are infidels."

Most Christians in Pakistan converted 150 years ago, Lobo noted, and were drawn largely from the oppressed outcast classes. There remains a strong current of social discrimination based on these class origins, he said. For example, if a Christian buys a cup of tea at a roadside shop, and the Muslim owner intuits that he's a Christian, he might smash his cup against the wall, saying that the Christian must pay for it because it's now polluted and no one will drink from it. In fact, Lobo noted, this is not really religious discrimination so much as the lingering effects of the caste system, but it does shape the quality of life of Pakistani Christians."

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