Youth Catechesis Will Continue in Pakistan
"Young people are our hope and our future," writes the Franciscan Capuchin, Father Shahzad Khokher, who is responsible for the youth apostolate in the Lahore Archdiocese. Thanks to the generosity of you, our benefactors, ACN is able to help again this year with a contribution of $13,700, so that youth catechism can continue in Pakistan.
Pakistan is a youthful country. Well over half of Pakistan's population of approximately 190 million are 25 and under, while some 34% are younger than 15. This extremely youthful age structure is no less true of the Christian minority in the country.
Sadly, Christian young people face many challenges and difficulties in this country of over 96% Muslims. Young Christians have very few opportunities of advancing socially, and in the state schools they are often discriminated against. A study by the US State Department's Commission on International Religious Freedom has recently found that only 60% of teachers in Pakistani state schools even believe that members of religious minorities are also Pakistani citizens.
And even among those who do view Christians as citizens, many do not see them as having equal rights with Pakistani Muslims. As a result, Christian students in Pakistani schools are treated as second-class citizens, and the only religion taught in all school classes, from kindergarten onwards, is Islam, as many Church leaders lament.
The teaching is presented as though the country is intended only for Muslims, and even in nonreligious subjects Islam still plays a prominent part. For example, children are given essays to write with titles such as: "Write a letter to your friend, inviting him to convert to Islam." Even in the teaching of mathematics and chemistry, Islam still manages to intrude, while in history classes the achievements of non-Muslims are not even mentioned. And very often the school textbooks themselves speak in a denigrating manner about non-Muslims.
The Church has already appealed to the government to revise such school textbooks, and while there have been some small improvements, there is still a great deal to be done. Christian pupils are still often being put under pressure to convert to Islam.
Given this situation, it is all the more important for Christian young people to learn to know and treasure their faith and to deepen it. Ever since 1988, the Archdiocese of Lahore has been running special ongoing faith education programs for older adolescents who have already outgrown the Sunday Schools. The focus of these programs is very much on the Holy Scriptures and the Sacraments, but the pupils are also told about great Christian personalities who have played an important role in the history of their country, since these are aspects that are passed over in silence in the official state school curriculum.
The program has borne many good fruits, and many former students have even become priests or religious or committed and active lay members of the Church. And thanks to your support, youth catechesis will continue here.
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