Church people in India and Pakistan say that the Cricket World Cup semi final match yesterday has helped unite local religious communities and enhance ties between the two rival nations. India reached the final of the world cup after beating fierce rivals and neighbors Pakistan by 29 runs in Mohali. The match in Punjab was Pakistan's first match in India since the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks which strained relations between the two sub-continent nations. In Pakistan, special prayers were offered in worship places. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus offered prayers for Pakistan’s success. Some Catholic parish halls in Pakistan were booked for screening of the match. The youth group of St. Anthony’s Church in Karachi created a page on Facebook
inviting “the Christian community” to see the match in the parish hall in Karachi. The group instructed youngsters to don the national cricket team colors. It arranged for a big screen to show the match and for the Pakistani flag to be painted on faces. “The funds from tickets of 50 rupees (less than US$2) will go to youth development programs,” said Father Clifford Roderick, the parish priest. In Lahore archdiocese, both minor and major seminary concluded classes at noon to view the match. “It is very important for future priests to understand the topics of interest to the world,” said Father Khalid Yousaf, rector of St. Francis Xavier major seminary. Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had announced a half working day for government offices as he left for India to watch the match with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh. The move is seen as a diplomatic means of improving ties between the neighboring countries. India had broken off talks over border disputes after Pakistani militants killed 166 people in a 2008 attack in Mumbai. Father Alwyn M.J. D’Souza, secretary of the Youth Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, expressed happiness that the cricket match “helped improve relations between Pakistan and India that were not on talking terms for some time.” However, he was unhappy at the “unnecessary hype” over the match. Pakistan and India have a shared history, both counties being carved out from British India. Pakistan has a predominantly Muslim population with a tiny percentage of Hindus. In India, 83 percent of the 1.2 billion people are Hindu and Muslims constitute about 120 million people. In the past, any competition between the two countries -- especially in sports -- has left local religious minorities susceptible to being targets of violence. On the political side, the nuclear-capable neighbors have battled each other in three wars since gaining independence in 1947. India now will play another neighbor, Sri Lanka, in the world cup final on Saturday in Mumbai after a 49-match spectacle over seven weeks. “We especially remember the team in our prayers to face the challenge,” said Father Ranjith Shirely Bertram from Colombo archdiocese. “We sent greetings through SMS messages to the team,” said Asanka Nimal, a school cricketer from Colombo. People from the subcontinent are crazy about cricket. No other sport offers people from those countries that amount of national self-esteem. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have each won the World Cup, in 1983, 1992 and 1996 respectively.