A 2017 file image of Pakistani Catholics attending a Good Friday Mass at St. Peter's Church in Karachi. (Photo by Asif Hassan/AFP)
The New Year is here and while it is always encouraging to see Pakistani bishops making resolutions, revisiting some old ones might be a good idea.
Please don't get me wrong. I truly believe that it is time of year when the world should look forward to a new beginning.
Bishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi rightly announced "the Year of Peace and Hope" on Dec. 1, during the inauguration ceremony of the new year in the Cathedral of St. Joseph of Rawalpindi.
Similarly, when Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore announced that 2019 will be the Year of Dialogue in his archdiocese, he also talked about focusing on Muslim-Christian dialogue. For the vulnerable religious minorities, this is the key to survival amid rising religious fundamentalism in the country.
Cardinal Joseph Coutts is also very clear about it.
"Pakistan is becoming more Islamic in a subtle way. Taliban, the so-called Islamic state and Al Qaeda reject democracy as a western idea. They reject democratically elected governments and are struggling for a theocratic state; a caliphate," Cardinal Coutts told me.
"We are treated not as equals but as protected citizens. Most of our problems are faith based."
But while the New Year period is a great time to set new goals, it is also a time to look back. Did we really stick to the promises made in years bygone?
The biggest change in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council was an explosion of lay participation in evangelization and catechesis.
The closure of the council in 1965 opened windows of opportunities for laity in Pakistan and church commissions started hiring them for top positions. Caritas Pakistan was established in that same year as an expression of concern of local Catholics for justice, peace and development. It should also be noted that all prominent human rights defenders in the Islamic republic are Catholics.
However, the Caritas diocesan unit in Lahore has not had a lay Executive Secretary in at least a decade. Priests heading this charity over these years were already very busy with other jobs. The executives included a vicar general, bishop’s secretary, cathedral rectors etc.
There are other examples.
Maktaba-e-Anaveem Pakistan or Theological Institute for Laity has been led by its founding Father Emmanuel Asi since 1989. Despite its dedicated name, he is finding it hard to discover a lay successor.
The institute, based in a village of Punjab province, has published more than 200 books in Urdu, the national language, for both Catholics and Protestants plus visiting Muslim scholars. More power to the 70-year-old theologian who is also the executive secretary of the Catholic Bible Commission but more lay researchers and Biblical scholars could help him in his work.
Promoting and trusting lay staff can help overburdened priests, encourage laity and continue their formation in the faith. Well-informed lay leadership can also help in filling any gaps created from shortage of priests.
As a rule, it’s easier to keep just one resolution rather than several but it would be unfair to skip the most common demand by people everywhere I go; namely the wish for a 24-hour Catholic satellite channel.
In the New Year Mass of 2018, Lahore Archdiocese launched a fundraising campaign to elevate its cable based Catholic TV to satellite. Launched in 2009, the channel airs programs on catechism, family fellowship, youth, children, hymns, Bible quizzes, career counseling, bible-themed movies as well as live homilies on television and social media.
It is presently being viewed in more than 20,000 Christian homes in Lahore Archdiocese and some villages of Punjab and Sindh province. Despite its major popularity, the channel nearly closed last year, according to Father Morris Jalal, the founder and Executive Director of Catholic TV.
"In October, we were notified that the bishop could no longer finance the channel. As we started packing up the equipment, a group of worried priests from all the eight diocesan districts agreed to pay and save the channel at a joint meeting," Father Jalal told me.
Electronic media in Islamic Republic has been ignoring Christians and other religious minorities for decades. At Christmas, Catholics and Protestants get 30 minutes each on the Pakistani television network. At Easter, this drops to 15 minutes.
Perhaps revisiting last year's resolution might be a good idea. Pentecostal Church has already taken the lead by launching Isaac TV, Pakistan’s first Christian satellite broadcaster in 2012. A vibrant media can become a powerful platform to improve the lives of Christians.
The church in Pakistan has served the nation through its public welfare services including health and education. However, it cannot do that by itself and the church needs laypeople who 'dare to dream’ as Pope Francis puts it.
The Pakistan Church must live up to its promises and review the commitments made in the past. And, don’t just be as good as last year but become even stronger. Let us look back to thank God for answered prayers and hope for better days.
Kamran Chaudhry is a Catholic commentator based in Lahore.