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Pakistan

Pakistani bishop prioritizes getting closer to people

New Faisalabad prelate tells embattled community: 'The gates of my house are now open for all'

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Pakistani bishop prioritizes getting closer to people

Bishop Joseph Indrias Rehmat with the faithful in Khushpur, the biggest Catholic village in Pakistan. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry)

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Bishop Joseph Indrias Rehmat, the new bishop of Faisalabad, says restoring the faith of his neglected community is key to his vision for the Punjabi diocese.

“I feel the church leadership is too distant from a community which already faces religious discrimination on a daily basis,” he said. “The gates of my house are now open for all; the Church is our common home.”  

The 53-year-old prelate was ordained bishop on Sept. 13 at De La-Salle High School in Faisalabad. Cardinal Joseph Coutts was the principal consecrator, while apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Zakhia El-Kassis and Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi were his co-consecrators.

The episcopal motto chosen by the new bishop is “Faith in Action.”

Bishop Rehmat obtained a doctorate in moral theology at the Alphonsian Academy in Rome in 2000 and the former professor at Christ the King Major Seminary had served in Karachi Archdiocese for two decades.

Pope Francis made the appointment on June 29 while Father Rehmat was serving as the dean of the National Catholic Institute of Theology. He replaces Archbishop Arshad, who was transferred to Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese in December 2017.

Troubled times

According to Bishop Rehmat, whose father was a catechist, several diocesan institutes have suffered by the absence of a bishop for more than a year. A total of 35 priests are serving in Faisalabad Diocese, while 25 are studying at St. Thomas the Apostle Minor Seminary in Faisalabad.

“We used to have 150 schools — now only 49 are providing education to 16,000 students. Another social organization of the Catholic Church was bankrupt. They need serious reforms," he told ucanews.

“Most of the NGOs make big claims about working for the poor, but sadly this isn’t true. I try to avoid them as a few are advocating for a controversial Christian divorce law but do not represent the Church.

“Our community is already suffering from challenges like unemployment. The Pakistani media also ignore religious minorities.”

A rights group, International Christian Concern, documented 43 cases of persecution against Pakistani Christians between July and September. They included the abduction and forced conversions of seven girls, another seven cases in which women were targeted for sexual assault, five cases related to denial of religious freedom, seven cases of physical torture, six religiously motivated murders and 11 cases of discrimination.

The bishop of Faisalabad is also skeptical of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. He recounted meeting Khan as part of a delegation from the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference in July with a donation for the construction of water reservoirs on behalf of the minority community.

“Khan has some ideas to improve the situation of non-Muslim Pakistanis but is limited by his circle of advisers. The circumstances are still not favorable,” he said.

“We are equal citizens and want to live the faith in Pakistan, not in isolation but in friendship, solidarity and collaboration with everyone.”

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