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Asia

2003-11-05

ASIA/PAKISTAN - PRESIDENT OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE SAYS MUSLIM CHRISTIAN RELATIONS IN PAKISTAN ARE IMPROVING: THE CHURCH RESPECTS THE GOVERNMENT BUT DEMANDS ABOLITION OF BLASPHEMY LAW

Lahore (Fides Service) – Better relations with Muslims, mainly positive judgement of Musharraf’s government, but a request for the abolition of the anti-blasphemy law and Hudhud Muslim punishments. These were the main points emerging from a conversation with Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore who is also president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Pakistan
Speaking to Fides Service the Archbishop said. “Since September 11, 2001, the Church faces the problem of fundamentalism which identifies the Church with the West. On the one hand as Christians we are with the West to condemn terrorism but on the other we are with our Muslim brothers for peace to build a country of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. We have an important role to play to build good relations between Christians and Muslims in Pakistan and all over the Middle East region. Thanks to many interventions by the Pope, today Muslims are ever more aware that we want to build good relations with them”.
Archbishop Saldanha says “because of fundamentalist groups it is necessary to have security guards in front of the main churches in large cities. But since last Christmas there have been no attacks on Christians and the situation appears to be improving. Today we have good relations with moderate Muslims who are the majority in Pakistan.”.
With regard to North Western Frontier Province, where Sharia Muslim law was recently introduced, the Archbishop is not particularly worried: “I am not concerned because even Muslims are realising that no one stands to benefit. In fact the law has not yet been applied in full. Christians are not affected because these laws are applicable only to Muslim citizens ”.
Archbishop Saldanha’s judgement of the present government is positive: “President Musharraf is in a difficult position, he has to deal with militant Islam parties. The Church approves of his activity because he is trying to eliminate radical Islam.”.
“The central government– the Bishop explains – has approved laws in favour of Christians: at the political level the vote is no longer affected by religious belief, and we have favourable measures for Catholic schools. Now we are asking for the abolition of the blasphemy law and the Islamic Hudud punishments introduced by General Zia and often used against minority groups. They include amputation of hands for men and stoning for women. We ask for their abolition although they are rarely applied”.
Pakistan has a population of 155 million 97% Muslim, (80% Sunni and 20% Shiite). Christians are 2,5%, and of these Catholics are 1.2 million.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 31/10/2003 lines 46 words 472)

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