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Pakistani evangelist embraces sick of all faiths

Supporters of the Islamic republic's first hospital built by a Pakistani Christian say it will enhance interfaith relations
Pakistani evangelist embraces sick of all faiths

Pastor Saleem Massey (left) and consultant civil engineer Maqsood Gill at the construction site of Good Shepherd Christian Hospital in Qila Natha Singh in Punjab, Pakistan, on May 18. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry)

The construction of an evangelical Good Shepherd Christian Hospital in Pakistan is the first such local Christian undertaking in the Islamic republic.

For some two centuries, Christians have provided healthcare in this part of the subcontinent.

However, Pastor Saleem Massey of Lahore, capital of the province of Punjab, plans to take that a step further.

"All the Christian hospitals in our country were built by foreign missionaries," Massey told ucanews.com. "The church only inherited them in the post-British era. The community produced many doctors and nurses, but neither the Catholic nor Protestant churches own a single medical college."

As well as caring for the sick in impoverished areas, the new facility intends to train young people to engage in social and economic development of the community.

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Still under construction in Qila Natha Singh, a rural town 80 kilometers from Lahore, the Good Shepherd Christian Hospital is set to begin operating next year.

A 25-bed facility will be inaugurated in the first phase with medical, gynecology, eye and dental services.

Minister of State for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Pir Amin Ul Hasnat Shah inaugurated the building work in 2016.

The plan is for an attached 75-bed extension to be added later along with a medical college, nursing school, Bible college, medical stores, bank and fast food restaurants as well as groceries. A 15-meter cross is to be installed at the hospital's entrance. 

Advocate Emmanuel Zaffar, a former Christian member of the Pakistan National Assembly, states in his book A concise history of Pakistani Christians that Christians were in 2007 operating 35 general hospitals, 26 dispensaries, five eye hospitals, two laboratory training schools and one X-ray training school.  

Massey now hopes to write the next chapter in this history of health services in Pakistan.

"Our motto of love, compassion and mercy will change the way Muslims view Christianity in Pakistan," he said.

Most Pakistanis regarded the United States and Western European countries as Christian — and Muslim militants often attacked local Christians as they considered them to be associated with these nations.

"The hospital will cement our legacy as the sons of the soil," said the 60-year-old former psychologist at the United Christian Hospital.

Challenges ahead

Acute power outages pose a challenge. "We are only getting four hours of electricity per day," he said. "Things worsen in hot summers."

A 50,000-gallon water tank is planned to ensure an uninterrupted water supply.

Massey complained that there had been a lack of backing for his project from some churches and church officials.

However, Father James Channan, regional coordinator of United Religions, urged Christians in Pakistan to support the new hospital.

"Both clergy as well as laity should lend a helping hand and make this wonderful dream a reality," said the Dominican priest. "It is a big thing for Pakistani Christians. I admire the pastor's vision to serve the sick and poor in remote areas."

Father Channan said the new hospital would help foster grassroots interfaith harmony.

Medical apostolate

The Pakistani Church is known for its high-quality education and charitable institutes. And credit for introducing open-heart surgery goes to Lahore's United Christian Hospital, founded in 1947 during partition from India to take care of thousands of injured and sick immigrants. "In 1969, the first successful replacement of heart valves took place in the hospital," states its website

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is managing nine hospitals in the Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Faisalabad and Islamabad-Rawalpindi dioceses. These include St. Raphael's Hospital, founded by Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in 1907, the largest maternity hospital in Faisalabad city.

Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary Sister Ruth Pfau founded the first leprosy clinic in Pakistan, the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre, in 1963. Due to her efforts, in 1996 the World Health Organization declared Pakistan to be one of the first countries in Asia to control leprosy. She was bestowed with the nation's highest civil awards, the Hilal-e-Pakistan and the Hilal-e-Imtiaz.

Earlier this month, the State Bank of Pakistan released a commemorative coin for the German physician, who died last August.

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