Keeping the faith in Pakistan -- against all odds

A series of anti-Christian atrocities climaxed on March 27, 2016 when Christians celebrating Easter were targeted in a suicide bomb blast at Lahore’s Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park. The attack killed 72 people (including 29 children) and 340 others were injured.

Just hours after the terrorist strike, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw, OFM of Lahore visited local hospitals to spend time with victims of the blast. He said at the time: “I visited every bedside and every victim, of whatever faith.” Archbishop Sebastian Shaw

Comprising a Catholic community of about 500,000 people, more than any other of Pakistan’s six dioceses, the Archdiocese of Lahore’s faithful nonetheless make up less than two percent of the local population. Their minority status—coupled with their poverty—puts Christians and others in the region at direct risk of intimidation and oppression in a country where the rule of law often does not apply.

This threat is magnified by what the archbishop has described as a fundamental shift towards Islamism sustained through a growing network of madrassas (Islamic seminaries or schools), many of which are infiltrated by extremist groups.

Meanwhile, each time a new church in Pakistan is built, thanks to the generosity of donors, the public presence of the faith is strengthened. That faith also sustains the majority of Catholics who are poor and often illiterate. A highly efficient network of catechists teaches them the faith—as needed, with the spoken word and the use of pictures.

Archbishop Shaw has been a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue since October 2013. The Council is in charge of promoting Archbishop Sebastian Shawmutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and the followers of other religious traditions. The archbishop is a firm believer in interreligious dialogue, saying that “we need to learn to respect one another—to realize that we are all Pakistanis, whether we are Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Hindus.”

His task was made harder in the wake of 9/11 and the American invasion of Afghanistan. Many churches, schools and other institutions were targeted. Christians were scapegoated by many Muslims who accused them of being associated with and allied to the US or the West.

The archbishop said: “we had a choice: either shrink back into our shell and live in fear or go out and seek dialogue and engagement and this we are doing. In taking practical steps to open lines of communication with people of other faiths, we are fulfilling the call of Vatican II whereby the Church invites us to seek friendship with other religions.

A huge challenge is the way Christians, as well as Jews and other minorities, are depicted in the nation’s textbooks, which refers to them as untrustworthy “infidels.” Then there is the draconian anti-blasphemy law in addition to gross unfairness in the justice system of the country, whose constitution guarantees religious freedom for all. But that provision is not enforced when it comes to Christians. In court, Archbishop Shaw has said, “the evidence of a Christian man is worth half that of a Muslim man and the evidence of a Christian woman is worth a quarter of a Muslim man’s.”

However, Archbishop Shaw is undeterred in his fundamental belief that truth will win the day in the end. He regularly tells his faithful that “they must not give up hope because, even though we are going through a period of grave difficulties, we have to learn to rise up again, just as Christ was able to raise himself again, despite carrying the cross.”


Please help Archbishop Shaw and our Christian brothers and sisters in Pakistan with a donation if possible. And thank you for your continued prayers.


Copyright © 2017   Aid to the Church in Need 725 Leonard Street P.O. Box 220384 Brooklyn, NY 11222   (800) 628-6333