Multan (Agenzia Fides) - "The small Catholic community in the south of Punjab province lives communion and promotes dialogue in a society where the influence of Islamic militants and violent groups is felt": says Bishop Benny Travas to Agenzia Fides, who since August 2015 has been leading the community of the diocese of Multan, where 80 thousand Catholics live, entrusted to the pastoral care of 14 diocesan priests and 20 religious priests.
The Bishop notes that especially in the area of the city of Rahim Yar Khan "the security situation is critical, given that extremist groups have established their bases in South Punjab and set up their madrassas that spread an ideology of hatred". Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) are among the radical organizations reported in the territory, responsible for numerous acts of terrorism.
The risks are recognized and this is why the provincial government has imposed strict security measures for churches and Christian schools, deemed "sensitive buildings". The Bishop refers to Fides: "All churches, schools and even small chapels must equip themselves with surrounding walls, cameras, turrets, guards and all these expenses must be paid by us. We did it for the Cathedral, but it is difficult to do it for every chapel: we cannot sustain the costs. If we cannot manage, unfortunately, the alternative is to close the churches". In fact in Rahim Yar Khan, continues Mgr. Travas "a Protestant pastor was arrested for violation of that ordinance and its hall of worship was closed because it did not meet the requirements imposed by the government".
Furthermore, given the dangers, "all foreign missionaries have gone, and moved to other areas of the country, since their pastoral work had become almost impossible, linked to the mandatory presence of an armed escort. For a priest or a nun who visited the sick and families, this is a real pain", says the Bishop.
The diocesan community is heavily engaged in the education of young people and in health, as is the case with the "Gah Umeed" institute ("Place of Hope") in Multan: "It is a nursing and rehabilitation home for disabled children, where families of all religions bring their children, who make tremendous progress: many of them learn to walk". "Muslim families - notes the Bishop - are very happy and appreciate this service: so, on the basis of gratitude, dialogue of life is established which builds good relationships. Our street is living the Gospel with actions, with Christian witness more than words. The pastoral plan of the diocese, which is also my episcopal motto is to 'build communion' with all, in a diocesan territory made up mostly of small rural villages inhabited by farmers". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 03/10/2016)