Pakistan, The Catholic Church in
PAKISTAN, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Pakistan is located in South Asia, bordered by India on the east, Iran and Afghanistan on the west, and China on the north. The population consists of five principal ethnic communities: Punjabi (55 percent of the population); Sindhi (20 percent); Pashtun (Pathan) (10 percent); Mujahir (immigrants from India at the time of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan) (10 percent); and Baloch (5 percent). Pakistan attained independence from British rule on August 14, 1947, when the predominantly Muslim areas of India— West Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, the Northwest Frontier and East Bengal—were united to form the new country. Conceived as a homeland for Muslims of India, with non-Muslims equal citizens, the secular vision of the founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was altered soon after his death. In 1956 the country was proclaimed an Islamic republic and Islam became the state religion. Continuing ethnic and civil strife between West and East Pakistan developed into a full-blown civil war in 1971, resulting in the independence of Bangladesh, the former East Pakistan. Islam has been promoted by successive martial law regimes as a way of legitimating their rule. In recent years this has led to ethnic and sectarian violence among Muslims and discriminatory and repressive laws against minorities.
Early Christian Presence. Pakistan is the site of the ancient Indus civilization (2,600 bc) and the northern areas formed part of the ancient Silk Route, which gave birth to the Buddhist Gandhara civilization in Swat (200 bc–200 ad). St. Thomas the Apostle was reputed to have passed through Taxila, near present-day Rawalpindi on his way to India. Though this cannot be verified, the presence of Christian communities in the area as early as the third century does witness to early activities. Along the Silk Route, two Assyrian Church of the East (Nestorian) crosses have been discovered and the Gilgit cross was found in a place (Kunodas) known to be an ancient burial place. A 7th century cross has been found near Chilas.
No permanent work resulted from the visits of these early Christians. In 1569 Jesuit missionaries from goa, Frs. Monserrat and Acquaviva, arrived at the court of Akbar in Lahore. They were favored and accompanied the emperor to his residence at Fatehpur Sikri. After fourteen years of unsuccessful endeavors, they left the Moghul court in 1583. A second mission in 1583 and a
third in 1594 were both fruitful. By 1597 there was a large church in Lahore and in 1604 the emperor allowed all his subjects to embrace Christianity. More priests arrived from Goa and began publishing in Persian books on the history and teaching of Christianity. Akbar's grandson, Shahjahan, proved less friendly and, in 1650, ordered the destruction of the Lahore church. The Catholic population of Lahore at that time comprised three distinct communities: the Europeans (mostly Portuguese), the Armenians and Indian converts. In 1606 they numbered about 50. By 1714, quite a number of the soldiers were Christian. During this time, Lahore was the center for various missionary expeditions to Kafiristan (present day Chitral in Pakistan and Nuristan in Afghanistan). These lasted from 1587 until 1700. After this the number of Jesuits began to decrease. By 1750 the Christian soldiers had no resident priest and by 1752 the soldiers themselves were deported to Kabul by the invading king, Ahmed Shah. In this same period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries some Augustinians and Carmelites from Bombay and Goa evangelized Sindh near the Portuguese factories of Thatta but little is known of their activities and work ceased with the persecution of 1672. It was not begun again until after the conquest of Sindh by the British in 1842.
The Beginnings of the Modern Church. The beginnings of the present-day Catholic Church in Pakistan can be traced to the annexation of the Punjab by the British in 1846 and to services provided to those Christians who were British citizens, civil and military, as well as to immigrants from the southern provinces of India. To meet this need, Capuchins came from Agra to Lahore, and Carmelites and Jesuits from Bombay to Sindh and Baluchistan. To this day many important administrative and railway centers have as a colonial legacy at least three churches in every military cantonment, one Anglican, one Presbyterian and one Catholic. Lahore became an apostolic vicariate in 1855 and in 1886 a diocese. The northwestern provinces of Kashmir and Kafiristan were constituted into an apostolic prefecture entrusted to the Mill Hill Fathers, headquartered in Rawalpindi, in 1887.
Sindh and Baluchistan remained under the jurisdiction of Bombay.
Until 1890, the Church restricted itself mostly to the service of foreigners. Subsequently, demands from mainly lower-caste Hindus desiring closer contact with the Church in the Lahore-Sialkot area led to the development of the Pakistani Catholic Church. Over 80 percent of all Pakistani Catholics trace their roots to this ethnic group. In the Punjab the diocese of Lahore stretched from Jullundur to Bahawalpur. Direct mission work began from Sialkot in 1889–1890 and spread to the districts of Gujrat, Jhelum, Gujranwala and Sheikhupura and especially in villages established in the newly irrigated areas of the Doab. These Catholic agricultural colonies and villages became centers for evangelization in the surrounding areas.
A growing Catholic community and responsibility for a vast area dictated the need of ceding the eastern districts of Lahore diocese to the newly formed archdiocese of Simla-Delhi in 1910. In 1936 the entire division of Multan was formed into a prefecture and entrusted to the Dominicans of the Roman province, who had arrived five years earlier. In the North, the districts of Sargodha and Gujrat were attached in 1938 to the apostolic prefecture of Rawalpindi. The territory entrusted to Mill Hill was enlarged and included the civil divisions of Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Rawalpindi and Sargodha. In 1947 this prefecture was raised to the status of a diocese. Sindh and Baluchistan remained part of the archdiocese of Bombay, where Jesuits, mostly Spanish, worked. Centres were established in the more important towns but there was little direct evangelization. In 1934 the whole territory was detached from Bombay to form the independent mission of Karachi under the care of the Dutch Franciscans.
In this pre-partition period, charitable and educational institutions were established in towns and villages throughout the area. Pioneers in the field in Lahore were the Religious of Jesus and Mary from Lyons (1856), and in Karachi, the Daughters of the Cross from Liege (1862). Two local congregations were formed during this time: the Franciscan Tertiary Sisters of Lahore (1922) and the Franciscan Missionaries of Christ the King in Karachi (1937).
The Church in Independent Pakistan. Independence in 1947 found the Catholic Church still part of two distinct ecclesiastical units with Sindh, Khairpur and Baluchistan belonging to the ecclesiastical province of Bombay, while the Punjab, Bahawalpur and the Northwest depended on the archdiocese of Delhi. Changes were made to accommodate the new political reality. The diocese of Karachi was created on May 28, 1948 for Sindh and Baluchistan, and was raised to the status of an archdiocese two years later. In 1958 the archdiocese was divided to form the new diocese of Hyderabad entrusted to the Franciscans. In 1960, after the arrival, in 1956, of Dominicans from New York, the diocese of Multan was entrusted to the Americans and the districts of Lyallpur (present-day Faisalabad), Jhang and Sahiwal were separated to form the new diocese of Faisalabad, entrusted to the Italian Dominicans. In 1973 Pope Paul VI raised the archbishop of Karachi, Joseph Cordeiro, to the rank of cardinal. Lahore was erected an archdiocese on April 23, 1994, and Armando Trindade named the first archbishop. There are also two monasteries: one Carmelite monastery in Lahore and one of Dominican nuns in Karachi. Many religious formation houses were established in Lahore. St. Francis Xavier Seminary in Lahore is affiliated with the Urbanianum in Rome, while the National Catholic Institute of Theology in Karachi has sought affiliation with Yarra Theological Union (Melbourne).
Roughly half the Christian population belongs to different Protestant churches. The Church of Pakistan, inaugurated in 1970 through a union of Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians, claims the largest number of adherents. Other groups include the Salvation Army, Adventist, Baptist, Full Gospel and many smaller pentecostal and evangelical bodies. Relations between churches are generally friendly, especially when the welfare and survival of the tiny Christian minority is seen at risk. The bishops of the Church of Pakistan and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan meet occasionally and have made joint representations to the government. Ecumenical and interfaith cooperation is active on the national level in the Christian Study Centre in Rawalpindi, founded in 1967 to promote understanding between Muslims and Christians, the Idara-e-Aman-o-Insaf, the center for Peace and Justice in Karachi, and the Pastoral Institute in Multan, where regular ministerial meetings are held.
Church and Society. It would be hard to calculate the influence the Church has had on society but one witness to the presence and efficiency of church work is the frequent encouragement by leaders to government officials to work with "missionary zeal." For years, the only quality education and health care was that offered by missionary institutions. There are over 600 Catholic educational institutions, providing instruction in the national and provincial languages and in English, to Christian, Muslim and Hindu students. Since 1969 the government has exercised increasing control over Christian institutions and the activities of foreign missionaries. Most private schools and colleges were nationalized between 1972 and 1974. Although this law affected Muslim schools as well, its main purpose was perceived as weakening the Christian influence in Pakistan. Ownership, however, remained with the churches. In Sindh and in several dioceses of the Punjab, many of these schools have since been returned.
Besides traditional hospital care, the Church has always had a medical presence in the rural areas, where 80 percent of the population lives. It has done pioneering work in the care and eradication of Hansens disease, and in care for the disabled, the elderly and the destitute. Many centers have been opened recently for the awareness and cure of drug addiction. Low-cost housing schemes, sponsored by diocesan agencies, have benefitted many. Organizations like Catholic Relief Service (CRS) and Caritas have collaborated with the government in rehabilitation and health projects for refugees and displaced persons.
With Pakistani leadership in the dioceses and in many of the religious congregations, and with an active and educated laity, what was not possible before has now become possible. Forty years ago, there were only two national publications, one an English weekly from Karachi, the other a monthly in Urdu from Lahore. Now there are theological journals in English (Focus from Multan ) and in English and Urdu (Al Mushir from Rawalpindi). National and diocesan commissions and centers publish regular magazines and newsletters. Evidence of this coming of age is also seen in the small but growing number of Pakistani women religious on mission in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and in the involvement of lay men and women in the field of catechetics, education and in the different commissions for justice and peace. This involvement has led to close cooperation with nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups, out of which working alliances, deeper understanding and genuine friendship with Muslims have developed. The role of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference was crucial in organizing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Jubilee 2000 campaign for cancellation of debt.
The martial law regime of General Zia-ul-Haq (1976–1988) introduced the system of separate electorates, where minorities (Christian, Hindu, Ahmadi, Parsee) vote only for candidates of their own religion. This effectively reduced minorities to second class citizens. In his attempt to create an Islamic society, Zia-ul-Haq introduced ordinances changing the laws of evidence (making the testimony of a non-Muslim witness equal to only half the value of a Muslim's), curtailing the civil rights of minorities and women, and introducing into the penal code mandatory death sentences for derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad or desecration of the Qur’an. This led to street protests by women and the formation of many activist women's groups. It also led to the beginnings of the modern dialogue between Muslims and Christians. In most instances, particularly in Lahore and Multan, this began as the initiative of Muslims who wished to present a more tolerant and pluralist face of Islam, different from the monochromatic vision of Ziaul-Haq. Since then, Christians and Muslims (the Muslims often at great risk to their own life) have defended those accused of blasphemy, worked together for the repeal of the amendments to the penal code regarding blasphemy and for the restoration of the joint electorate. Active centers for Muslim-Christian dialogue are the ecumenical Christian Study Centre in Rawalpindi, the Pakistan Association for Interreligious Dialogue based in Lahore and several groups in Karachi.
A continuing issue for Christians in Pakistan is one of identity as minority in a Muslim country. The Christian is not dhimmi, a member of a conquered race, nor is the Christian because of separate electorates and discrimination a citizen with equal rights. There were difficulties for Christians and Hindus during the wars with India in 1965 and 1971, when churches, temples and homes were attacked and Hindu and Christian loyalty suspect. Despite occasional flurries of violence after the Salman Rushdie affair and the Gulf War, Christians felt things were getting better. A defining moment came in 1992 when the government announced the addition of a column for religion in the national identity card. This was seen as discriminatory and led to mass protests, hunger strikes, press conferences and sit-ins with Christians joined by Hindus and Muslims. The government was forced to back down. The more lasting effect was the minority awareness and experience of power. They succeeded because the protests began at the grass-roots: they were united, had the support of many Muslims, and effective use was made of the media.
Christians and other minorities continue to face discrimination in civil society. They are especially vulnerable if they live in the vicinity of a mosque, where a loudspeaker could rouse a mob in minutes. The Christian community has been able to live with these things but was completely unprepared for a ferocious attack on Christian settlements in the Khanwal area near Multan on February 5–6, 1997. Churches and homes were attacked and burnt. The results of the government inquiry have not been released but it appeared that religion was used for political purposes. The aftermath was important for several reasons. The government was embarrassed by the international attention, many Muslims apologized to their Christian neighbors, and official and unofficial delegations visited the area. One of them comprised Muslim religious leaders, who themselves washed the floors of the desecrated churches and begged pardon from those who had been rendered homeless.
Bibliography: The Catholic Church in Pakistan Directory (Islamabad 1998). j. c. england, The Hidden History of Christianity in Asia: The Churches of the East before 1500 (Delhi and Hong Kong 1996). j. rooney, mhm, A History of Christianity in Pakistan (Rawalpindi 1984–89). b. mendes, "Looking Back at the ID Card Issue," Focus Supplement no. 1 (1993). f. e. stock People Movements in the Punjab (Pasadena CA 1968). "The Shantinagar Story," Focus vol. 17, no. 1.
[t. c. mcvey]