by Jack Long
In an officially Muslim country plagued by sectarian violence, the Pakistani Catholic Church took a bold step and announced that an upcoming celebration of a Year of the Eucharist. The Year starts November 26th, 2017 and ends on November 25th, 2018, the Feast of Christ the King.
The announcement was made by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference at their second annual meeting in the city of Lahore from November 9th to November 10th. The meeting was notable for marking the election of Archbishop Joseph Arshad, who spent 14 years as a Vatican diplomat, to the position of President of the Conference. As the head of the Catholic Bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) and the recipient of the country’s National Human Rights Award for 2016, Archbishop Arshad has a special interest in the political reform in Pakistan that was made quite evident in the statement on the Year of the Eucharist.
The statement began by focusing in on the corruption problems in the government of Pakistan, which is omnipresent. Only eight days after the statement was released, the former prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, was indicted on corruption charges after being removed from power earlier this year. According to the Washington Post, “[h]e and his family stand accused of using offshore holding companies to buy luxury properties in London, charges stemming from the Panama Papers leaks in 2016.” This is not a new problem, since every single Pakistani Prime Minister since 1947 has failed to complete their term in office. In the face of such political challenges, the Bishops said, “In sincerity and honesty before Almighty God and the well-being of our Country we have to confess our failures and ask God for pardon. This requires great courage. If we can begin cleansing ourselves the future of the country will be bright.”
The Conference also wrote on the topic of election reform, mostly by reiterating how important keeping the 2018 general elections honest and untampered is for the continued stability of the country. To allow these elections to be as democratic as possible, the Bishops urged “the Government to create a just and fair system” by eliminating the system where candidates representing ethnic and religious minorities are “appointed by political parties on reserved seats [that do] not represent the community.” Only ten seats in the National Assembly of three hundred forty-two are allotted for these minorities, leading to a situation where one seat is allotted for the 2.5 million Christian that live in Pakistan, according to estimates from UCA News.
On education, the message of the Conference went out of its way to emphasize the human right to education and its power to defeat “the darkness of illiteracy.” They reiterated the Church’s commitment to provide affordable education for its parishioners, but did not mince words on the government’s responsibilities in this matter. The statement read, “We appeal to the Government to introduce an educational system which can create an atmosphere of acceptance, religious harmony and peaceful co-existence in Pakistan.” The need for “peaceful co-existence” is particularly resonant, considering that the government stopped providing security for religious schools this April, leaving poor churches to find their own way to pay for necessary security measures like the “closed-circuit TV cameras and armed security guards” and “8-foot walls” reported by the Catholic Herald.