Archbishop Joseph Coutts will not officially become a Catholic Cardinal for another month, but many Pakistanis already hold high expectations on what he will be able to achieve. Pope Francis named the Archbishop of Karachi as being among 14 new cardinals to be elevated on June 29. News of what will be the second 'red hat' for the Islamic Republic, after Cardinal Joseph Cordeiro of Karachi who died in 1994, is dominating both social media and affairs of the local church. Media attention has included a documentary profile of Archbishop Coutts screened by Catholic TV, which is run by the Lahore Archdiocese. In a recent interview with ucanews.com, the prelate heralded "interfaith harmony" as his motto.
Thank you. You are now
signed up to our Daily Full
More than 10 members of the Oblate Community of Lahore on May 21 paid tribute by playing one of his favorite musical compositions, an anthem embodying this unifying theme. Priests as well as students had gathered to celebrate the feast of their founder, St. Eugene De Mazenod. "Finally we get recognition on a wider scale," said seminary professor Father Cecil Paul. "Now we shall have direct representation in Vatican
, just like neighboring India who have four red hats." Father Paul hoped the incoming cardinal would develop diplomatic relationships with foreign representatives as well as top military and political leaders in Pakistan. "Strong communication between church and state can play a positive role in helping Christians who are often targeted for their faith," the priest said. "Sadly the stories of our persecution are generally ignored in both print and electronic media." Two and a half million Christians in Pakistan have faced increased discrimination and violence since the government enacted anti-blasphemy laws in the 1980s that have been used by some hard-line Islamic groups to target other faiths. Last month, six Christians were gunned down in two separate incidents in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. Pakistani Catholics nationwide observed April 29 as a special day to mark the persecution of Christians. Archbishop Coutts himself was the bishop of Faisalabad in Punjab Province at the time of 2009 anti-Christian riots. Ten Catholics were killed, seven of them burned alive, in the city of Gojra and nearby village of Korian. A Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches in these areas following blasphemy allegations. Hafiz Muhammad Nauman, executive director of the World Council of Religions-Pakistan, said he was in constant contact with Archbishop Coutts at that time in helping to restore order. "I congratulate the archbishop and firmly believe his appointment will help in improving the identity of Pakistan," he said. "Our nation is peaceful — we are not terrorists and extremists." There were "other reasons" for the phenomenon of religiously-motivated violence, he added. Papal visit
The young cleric also recommended that the cardinal-elect use his influence to invite Pope Francis to Pakistan as it would present a "tolerant face" of Pakistan to the world. Arising from a 2016 visit to the Vatican, Pakistan government ministers Kamran Michael and Sardar Yusuf said publicly that Pope Francis had accepted an invitation
from then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to come to Pakistan. However, a Vatican spokesman has clarified that there is "currently no travel program to Pakistan being studied." The pope was grateful for the invitation, but had neither accepted nor declined, Vatican sources stated. New Appointments
Father James Archangelus, a senior priest in Faisalabad Diocese, has further requests for the Vatican, including the earliest possible nomination of an auxiliary bishop. He said Archbishop Coutts suffers from chronic asthma and his condition had worsened since 2012 when he was made archbishop in Karachi, a port city with high levels of humidity. "Now he requires a helper more than ever," Father Archangelus said. The senior priest also highlighted what he said was a need for both a nuncio and a new bishop. Faisalabad Diocese has been vacant since last December when Pope Francis transferred Bishop Joseph Arshad to head the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi while conferring on him the "personal title" of archbishop.