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Pakistan Christians urged to stop singing 'pro-Israel' psalms

Christian leaders are looking to avoid causing friction with the country's Muslim majority

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore and others at the interfaith meeting at the Bishop's House on Oct. 19

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore and others at the interfaith meeting at the Bishop's House on Oct. 19. (Photo: Kamran Choudhry)

Published: October 20, 2023 09:55 AM GMT

Updated: October 20, 2023 10:49 AM GMT

A Catholic archbishop in Pakistani’s Punjab province has urged Christians to avoid liturgical hymns and psalms praising Israel, fearing a possible backlash in the Muslim-majority nation where many have been left angered by the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore in the provincial capital organized an inter-faith meeting on Oct. 19 at his Bishop’s House, seeking an end to the war.

Most Muslims consider the war as an Islam-Jewish fight and any perceived support for the Jewish state of Israel could result in a backlash in the province, which is home to most Pakistani Christians.

“Some people are not aware of this sensitivity. We do not have any relations with Israel,” Shaw told the inter-faith gathering.

More than 80 percent of an estimated 5 million Christians in Pakistan live in Punjab province. The province has also witnessed most anti-Christian riots and attacks in the past two decades.

Parish choirs in the Lahore archdiocese “have been asked to avoid singing pro-Israel psalms for now,” Shaw told journalists after Sunday Mass on Oct. 15.

“Social media users should avoid sharing pro-Israel messages” and if already posted, should “delete them immediately,” he told the congregation during the Mass.

The Bible praises a region in a historical context and Christian faith is not linked with the Jewish state of Israel, he explained.

Lahore archdiocese and Multan diocese together cover Catholic parishes in Punjab province. Multan diocese also has expressed similar concerns.

“Our priests are already sensitized about avoiding such psalms to prevent any confrontation,” Father Daniel Taj, rector of Holy Redeemer Cathedral in Multan diocese in Punjab told UCA News on Oct. 19.

For decades, Christian groups in Pakistan have been calling on the government to allow Christians to visit the Holy Land without any success.

The inter-faith meeting in Lahore called for an end to the war in Gaza and lauded Pope Francis’ appeal for peace in the Holy Land.

Pakistan has seen many pro-Palestine rallies against the war in Gaza, with protesters trampling on American and Israeli national flags.

There is a high degree of anti-Israel sentiment in Pakistan and many Islamist groups champion the Palestinian cause. There are also no formal diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Pakistani politicians routinely denounce Israel for committing human rights violations against Palestinians.

The nuclear-armed Jewish state has, in turn, accused Pakistan of supporting Palestinian terror groups.

In the current war in Gaza, the Pakistan government backs the Palestinians whom the Islamic nation’s powerful army once called “our brethren” in a statement on Oct. 17 by its public relations wing.

Though Pakistan has no diplomatic ties, the Islamic nation and Israel have joined hands to hold cultural activities and share intelligence inputs. In 2005, their foreign ministers met at a public function.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan refuses to recognize Israel until there is a Palestinian state and provides financial aid to the Palestinian government.

On Oct. 16, the Pakistan government said it would dispatch humanitarian aid to Gaza as the Israeli army pounded the densely populated Gaza Strip with air strikes.

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