Faith sustains Pakistani Catholics, says visiting bishop

Bishop Anthony Lobo of the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Pakistan speaks at the rectory of Immaculate Conception Parish, Revere June 25. The Pilot/Gregory L. Tracy

REVERE — Bishop Anthony Lobo of the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Pakistan, is accustomed to turmoil.

Speaking at the rectory of Immaculate Conception Parish in Revere, one of the local churches he is visiting to raise awareness of the situation in Pakistan, his calm demeanor belies the difficulties he and his flock face in his native land.

Approximately 2 percent of Pakistan’s population is Christian, and of those, only half are Catholic. Another 2 percent is Hindu; the remaining 96 percent of the country is Muslim.

In Bishop Lobo’s diocese, which includes the contested region of Kashmir, the numbers are even more stark. Of the 35 million people living within his diocese, fewer than 170,000 are Catholic, according to the most recent information given on the Web site The same Web site indicates there are only 16 priests to minister to the Catholics in the diocese.

“Christians are marginalized in our society,” explained Bishop Lobo, due in part to the history of the Church in Pakistan.

According to the bishop, when missionaries first came to the Pakistani people, only the peasants, the poor, and the slaves accepted Christianity. Because no wealthy or powerful Muslim or Hindu families ever converted, the religion became identified with the poor, those who were “on the fringes of society.”

In addition, he said, “there has always been the problem of identity. Because the West is Christian, and we are Christian, therefore we belong to the West.”

“We are the scapegoats for all the offences committed by the West,” stated Bishop Lobo.

In one widely publicized example, following the invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Al-Qaeda leadership demanded its members kill two Pakistani Christians for each Muslim killed by the U.S. military.

In the face of such persecution one might suppose many Christians would find it hard to hold on to their faith, mused Bishop Lobo. But, he said, in fact the opposite is true.

“There are more Christians going to church now than before,” he declared. “There are some who have said that if we have to die, this is a good way to do it.”

This attitude, the bishop said, is the legacy of those who first came to preach the Gospel in his country.

“The missionaries have sown the seeds of faith very deep in the Pakistani people,” stressed Bishop Lobo.

Many Christians have been persecuted because of that faith in the past few years, such as 19-year-old Javed Anjum, a Catholic who is hailed as a modern martyr.

According to Bishop Lobo, Anjum was abducted after drinking water from a spigot outside a mosque in the western district of Toba Tek Singh. Several Muslims tortured Anjum in an effort to convince him to renounce his faith. Five days later, Anjum was taken to a nearby hospital where he died, still firmly resolute in his faith.

Despite the often tumultuous relationship between the Christian population and the wider Pakistani society, Bishop Lobo pointed to several improvements made in the past few years, particularly after the 2005 earthquake that devastated the Kashmir region of Pakistan.

“In Kashmir, the general attitude was not very friendly toward Christians,” he recounted. The region has no Catholic cemeteries or schools; Christians were not allowed to own land to build houses.

However, after the earthquake, the Church was the first to respond, “to come to the aid of these people” hardest hit by the disaster.

“We managed to do quite a lot,” Bishop Lobo said, praising the generosity of many people throughout the world who donated money, goods, and even personally went to his diocese to volunteer their services.

“Because of what we did, the attitudes have changed,” he said, noting that the Church is being allotted land for cemeteries and individual families are being given land to build houses. In addition, Bishop Lobo’s diocese will begin a Boys Town, which will house and educate 200 Kashmiri orphans.

In the wider society, Bishop Lobo marked three advances which denote a change in the perception of Christians in Pakistan: that of the de-nationalization of schools, the change to the electoral policies of the country and the defeat of a bill that would have imposed “Sharia” or Islamic law on the country.

According to the bishop, Christian education in Pakistan was abolished in 1972 when all schools were nationalized. For 20 years, Catholic bishops as well as Protestant leaders petitioned the government to allow them to re-establish Christian schools.

In 1992, the first school was allowed to reopen and, by now, nearly every Christian school which was closed in 1972 has been reopened. In addition, Bishop Lobo is expected to open the first Catholic university in the country — Ave Maria College of Professional Studies — in September 2007.

In the political arena, the Christians have seen some improvements as well, Bishop Lobo said.

According to the bishop, Christians are allotted four parliamentary seats. Historically, Christians were only allowed to vote for these four seats, regardless of their geographic region.

“If powerless and helpless people can only elect other powerless and helpless people, there’s no way we can ever stop a law from being passed,” Bishop Lobo affirmed.

However, after much lobbying on the part of the Catholic Church, “the electoral system has change,” he added.

Now all Pakistanis, regardless of their religion, vote for representatives from their geographical district.

“We have become valuable because our votes now count,” Bishop Lobo smiled. “Now in a close election, we can hold the balance of power.”

Bishop Lobo also lauded the work done by Christian leaders in defeating a 2003 attempt to impose Sharia law, that is, Islamic law, in the country.

“We were very apprehensive when the Sharia bill was first discussed,” admitted Bishop Lobo. The bill would have forced a strict code of conduct, based on the Koran, on all Pakistani citizens for the first time in the country’s history.

According to Bishop Lobo, many Muslims were initially in favor of the bill. However, after Christians and others “spelled out the implications” Sharia law would have on all Pakistanis, particularly women, the bill was defeated in parliament.

With all the difficulties in his home country the work ahead might seem daunting. However, Bishop Lobo is constantly looking forward.

After leaving Massachusetts, he will fly to Valencia, Spain to take part in the World Meeting of the Families. The defense of the family is an issue the bishop feels very strongly about.

“[Modern contraception] makes a woman into a chemistry bottle,” he declared. “Women are reduced to being an object, and that in turn, harms the family.”

In addition to his speaking engagements and attending meetings, the bishop serves on the board for Oasis magazine, headquartered in Cairo, Egypt. The magazine, which is in its 4th edition, focuses on the need for interreligious dialogue and peace.

But perhaps his most treasured moments are when he is teaching in the minor seminary he has started in his diocese.

“The happiest time in my life is when I am teaching those young men,” he said.


Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People&rsquo;s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigan&ograve; about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Catholic workers say U.S. aid cuts to Palestinians could be disastrous

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The U.S. budgetary cuts to humanitarian aid institutions helping Palestinians could lead to long-term disastrous consequences, said ...