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New year brings same old challenges

Christians need better grounding in their faith to overcome increasingly difficult obstacles

New year brings same old challenges
Silent Thinker, Lahore

January 17, 2012

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A retired Church of Pakistan bishop was right to express his disappointment while attending a recent ecumenical gathering. Speaking at a seminar called “Future of the local Church” jointly organized by Catholic and Presbyterian Churches this weekend, Bishop Mano Rumalshah of Peshawar diocese confessed that Christians have no collective vision. “We still do not know how to present our faith in this country. We have failed to enter wider society in tangible terms; we are simply trying to survive,” he said. The elderly bishop was almost in tears when he finished his address. He also admitted there were no conversions during the 20 years he served in the restive Northern Province, which has seen many NATO air strikes in recent months against militant leaders. Bishop Rumalshah put Christian fears down to the rise of the Taliban in this region but these concerns are widening across the country. Islamic theology certainly outweighs Christian beliefs in Muslim dominated Pakistan. Many Christian practices, such as observing fasts or going on pilgrimages, do have Muslim similarities. For instance, Catholics asking the priest when they should strictly observe fasts is a common question every year. While returning from the National Marian Shrine in Mariamabad one time, I remember a Christian woman openly discussing and comparing the management of the Marian grotto to that of Bibi Pak Daman in Lahore which is a mausoleum said to contain the graves of six women from the Prophet Muhammad's household. The recent ecumenical seminar, also highlighted some “challenges and demands” facing the local Church now and in the future. I have been hearing about them since I became involved in Church journalism: persecution; blasphemy; discrimination; religious bigotry’ poor education; a dearth in leadership; and weak Bible knowledge are to name a few. Churches all over the country prayed for peace and harmony at New Year masses. However a senior Capuchin priest pointed out something very thought provoking. “We have produced many theologians but not a single sociologist, not at least in the Catholic Church. There is no analysis of the reality of our situation simply because the Church has not conducted a single comprehensive survey of the community,” Father Morris Jalal told me. The Catholic Church needs a plan of action and to know its people better. We desperately need a vision with which to promote our Christian identity and present a Christ like lifestyle in Muslim society especially now that Christian scholars are predicting more persecution this year. This cannot be done without serious ground work. Church people have to venture out and meet the people wherever they are. Catechists and then priests have been conducting family visits for decades but it is a fact that a few only pick out “well off Christians” for this purpose. Cyberspace is probably the most ideal way of getting in touch with youth, most of whom make rare appearances at masses or Church activities. What we need is a statistical survey to create an accurate picture of how minority Christians see themselves, what their needs are, and how the Church can fulfill these needs. I remember reporting on a survey carried out for our website two years ago. It was called The Socio-economic Status of Nuns in Pakistani Society  which collected data from 55 local and foreign nuns belonging to different congregations in Lahore archdiocese.  Two Muslim university students did the work on that one. I may sound blunt but it is a truth when I say the Church is most selfish at congregation level. We have a long way to go when it comes to living together as a nation in the one body of Christ. Talk of intra Church unity is voiced after every disaster but subside gradually. I have seen almost the same group of Church leaders forming at least four different ecumenical action groups in the half decade. The responsibility of drafting press statements and coordinating actions however stays with the laity (which deserves another article). The Catholic Church has to “show” itself making a united stand, not as a knee-jerk reaction, but out of principle. It can begin this by lifting the unofficial ban on allowing genuine pastors in Catholic villages. The same goes for Protestant Churches. The vision to prosper together has to overcome the fear of losing church members.   Silent Thinker is a pseudonym used by a Catholic commentator in Lahore
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