Living – and Sharing the Gospel – in Pakistan

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The 2015 Bible Marathon in St Philip Parish, Lahore.

Today (30e September), is the feast of Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church and translator of the Bible into Latin. To mark the holiday, ACN spoke with Fr. Emmanuel Asi, executive director of the Catholic Bible Commission of Pakistan, about the scriptures and the situation of Christians in the country.

What is life like for Christians in Pakistan?
Pakistan is an Islamic republic with a population of 230 million, 97% of whom are Muslims. The remaining 3% are minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. The majority of the 1.5 million Christians are Catholic. Life is difficult for those who, like Christians, do not follow Islam. There is no religious freedom.

But does the Constitution protect religious freedom?
On paper, we have the right to do everything, we have rights; but in practice, in politics, in social life, in academia, at work, there is a lot of discrimination and hardship for our young people – especially those who want to study at university or who are looking for work.

You can do whatever you want within the Church, you have complete freedom for that. You can manage your schools, your institutions, your parishes, your community, conduct any program, print bibles and books.

But as soon as you go out in society, in the street, in the office, in the workplace, that’s where the difficulties and discrimination begin.

How does the Church engage with other religions?
First, we organize many seminars and we invite many people from other religions. Recently, we organized a seminar on spirituality and we welcomed people from six different religions. Second, we work with university professors and students of comparative religious studies. Third, we have direct dialogue. We live side by side with other religions day and night. We live with them, talk to them, they are welcomed into our home, and we into their home.

How does the Church promote the Bible in Pakistan?
Over the past 20 years, since the establishment of the Catholic Bible Commission, we have done much to bring the Word of God closer to people and people closer to the Word of God. This is our mission.

People want to listen, they want to read the Word of God. We have a variety of programs that people can participate in. For example, we have one called “One Hundred Thousand Bible Friends”, with people from all over Pakistan who have their own Bible and like to read it for at least five minutes a day.

Last year in November we posted audio Bible readings for people who cannot read. In this way, people could listen to the Word of God. We also have the Children’s Bible and the YouCat Bible [for younger Christians], printed in Urdu, courtesy of ACN. We printed 70,000 Bibles.

We also have Bible Marathons in all of our dioceses, with 2,000 participants across the country. For 127 hours, the Bible is read in its entirety, without interruption, day and night. People were all enthusiastic and spiritually touched by this program.

And Father Emmanuel had a message for ACN benefactors…
I would like to thank people all over the world, the people of ACN, and everyone who helps us financially and supports us with their prayers. I ask them to continue to help, especially Pakistan.

On behalf of our people: please continue to help us as much as you can! However critical the situation, however bitter the reality, we must keep our hope in God alive.

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