Lahore (Fides Service) – “This Ramadan promises much for dialogue and consolidating good relations between Muslims and Christians. I am very happy and optimistic” Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, head of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Pakistan.
The Bishop told Fides: “The atmosphere is good. Ramadan has begun with deep spiritual communion. On the first day of Ramadan we broke the fast together, Christians and Muslims, in an atmosphere of prayer and sharing among people of good will. Here in Multan there is a spirit of solidarity and closeness and the times of tension and attacks on Christians seem very remote”. Bishop Francis says “recently celebrations for the 25th year of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate gathered everyone together, students, religious leaders, civil authorities, women. All Pakistanis appreciate the figure and activity of Pope John Paul II”.
In Pakistan there is tension between Shiite and Sunni Muslims after the assassination of Sunni leader Azam Tariq in Islamabad at the beginning of October. The Church is engaged in reconciliation on this front. Bishop Francis says: “we are acting as a bridge between the two communities: I invite both Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders to meetings focussing on dialogue to help build peaceful coexistence and restore harmony in society. ”.
Confirmation of improved Christian Muslim relations comes also from Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore who is president of the Bishops’ Conference: “Since the September 11 terrorist attack in New York we have seen a resurgence of Muslim fundamentalism which identifies Christians with the West. The Church in Pakistan has made an effort to show our Muslim brothers and sisters that we are on the side of peace, and we want to help build a modern country, free of terrorism. Thanks also to various interventions by Pope John Paul II today they are beginning to realise that we Christians want to have good relations. Certainly the presence of a few groups of fundamentalists made it necessary to have security guards in front of the main churches in Lahore. But since last Christmas there have been no more attacks on the Christian community and the situation seems to have improved considerably. Today we have good relations with moderate Muslims who are the large majority in Pakistan ”.
Pakistan has a population of 155 million 97% Muslim, mostly Sunni and 20% Shiite Christians are 2,5%, including about 1,2 million Catholics.
(PA) (Fides Service 30/10/2003 lines 42 words 452)