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Pakistani priest hailed a hero of interfaith harmony

Capuchin Father Francis Nadeem, who has died at 65, worked tirelessly to improve Christian-Muslim relations

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Pakistani priest hailed a hero of interfaith harmony

Father Francis Nadeem distributes face masks in Lahore in April. He died on July 3 at 65. (Photo: NCIDE)

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Catholics in Pakistan are mourning a priest who received a presidential award for interfaith dialogue.

Capuchin Father Francis Nadeem, executive secretary of the National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism (NCIDE) of Pakistan’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, died in a hospital in Lahore after a heart attack on July 3. He was 65.

More than 2,000 people attended his funeral at Sacred Heart Cathedral, opened for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak. Three bishops and 100 priests wearing face masks concelebrated the Mass. Some clerics showered rose petals on his grave.

“Together we planted olive trees, revered in both Islam and Christianity, in more than 100 madrasas, mosques and even police stations. He invited clerics onto the same table and worked hard to avoid misconceptions. The Church has lost a champion of peace promotion,” said Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore.

Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad said the priest used his poetry to call for unity in “our country where religious minorities are sometimes treated as strangers.”

Father Nadeem had published four volumes of hymns. He was a former chief editor of fortnightly Catholic Naqib, the oldest Urdu-language Catholic magazine. He was twice elected superior general of the Franciscan Capuchin Friars. He was twice awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, the fourth-highest award given to civilians in Pakistan. 

According to Mufti Syed Ashiq Hussain, principal of the Bait-ul-Quran madrasa, the priest was the only religious leader to win the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz award twice in history.

“Lahore has become an orphan in terms of interfaith. He was a man of the streets and a bridge between both communities,” said Hussain, who was among 10 clerics who attended Father Nadeem’s burial.

Muhammad Asim Makhdoom, chairman of the board of Kul Masalik Ulema, called him a messiah of humanity. “Together we solved many Muslim-Christian conflicts upon government directions. Such efforts are the need of our time. The students of our madrasa loved him” he said.

Makhdoom recounted a childhood incident that fueled the desire of the late priest to work for interfaith harmony. “He was visiting a Muslim family in the neighborhood when after a lunch they broke his plate. We are still struggling with such taboos,” he said.

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