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June 21, 2021

‘Providing minorities platform to raise concerns step in right direction’

Islamabad:The establishment of the Ministry for Minority Affairs and implementation of Tassaduq Hussain Jilani verdict in letter and spirit can effectively address the issues faced by the minorities in Pakistan.

This was stated by Archbishop Joseph Arshad, Bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and President of Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference in an interview with ‘The News’ here Sunday.

He said that providing minorities a platform where they can voice their issues and concerns could be the step in the right direction. "There was a Ministry for Minorities in past which was a good successful experience. Currently, minority issues are with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony which usually stays occupied in dealing with the other religious affairs and promotion of interfaith harmony in Pakistan," he said adding that every government has tried to address challenges faced by minorities but still, a lot has to be done to make minorities feel part of the overall society.

About the impression that minorities are leaving Pakistan, he said that tendency for migrating to developed countries exists throughout the region, among people belonging to all religions. "People try to move to developed countries for better opportunities. Since minorities are among marginalized communities of our society they also look for better opportunities abroad, however, more steps are to be taken so that the minorities don't feel insecure but be fully integrated into our society and live together with others with equality, dignity, and respect,” he said.

Archbishop Joseph Arshad said that forced marriages and forced conversions are a big challenge and also an alarming issue for minorities living in Pakistan. “Government has to seriously look into the matter and take appropriate measures to make minorities feel safe and part of the society,” he added.

Born in Lahore in 1965, Archbishop Joseph Arshad was officially installed as Archbishop-Bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese on February 10, 2018. He obtained his doctoral degree in Canon Law from Rome, Italy. He was also the first Pakistani priest to join the diplomatic services of the Holy See in 1999. He served at the Apostolic Nunciatures (Vatican Embassy) in Malta (1999-2002), Sri Lanka (2002-2003), Bangladesh (2004-2007), Madagascar (2007-2010) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (2010-2013).

In his interview, Archbishop Joseph Arshad also talked about the efforts of the Catholic Church in the promotion of interfaith harmony and welfare activities. He said that historically Church has always worked and has served the nation in three fields i.e. health, education, and social welfare. "Church is still very active in these fields. We have hospitals and dispensaries located from far-flung areas to bigger cities. Besides various colleges, we have more than 600 schools all over Pakistan where millions of children from different religions get an education. We are very proud of the fact that former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and many other renowned personalities got an education in these schools." In social work, he said that Catholic Church works through "Caritas," an international organization of Catholic Church that works on different welfare activities like protection and welfare of persons with disability, drug awareness programmes, help in emergencies, etc.

“Like in COVID 19, we ran different campaigns on creating awareness about COVID 19 SOPs and distributed food packages and helped in different ways many needy and poor people. All these activities are for people of all religions.” Furthermore, the Church also through Caritas Pakistan has begun a campaign to plant two million trees all over Pakistan that also complements the ‘Clean Green Pakistan’ campaign of the present government, launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The Church also carries various activities provide people shelter and it had carried many housing projects for poor and needy people who now own their own house through Church.

Archbishop also gave the example of St. Joseph Hospice in Rawalpindi (palliative care), which provides care for sick who are at the last stage of their lives due to some disease and there is no one to take care of them. “Then there are many religious Congregations of Nuns, who besides serving in education, health and welfare sectors are continually helping the poor and marginalized of the society. Missionary Sisters of Charity commonly known as Mother Teresa sisters are working in Pakistan and also in our Diocese, in Satellite Town where they take care of the orphan and handicapped children. Sr. Dr. Ruth Pfau is also well known in Pakistan for her services to end leprosy in Pakistan".

About the Mother Teresa sisters, he said that as per their rules set by Mother Teresa, these sisters don't even watch TV, use a mobile phone or read newspapers. They remain detached from the world and don’t engage themselves in any worldly activity." He said that in the Catholic Church, there are also sisters who belong to different religious orders and their rules are accepted voluntarily by nuns when they join and they serve according to the charism of their religious Congregations.

Archbishop said that the promotion of interfaith harmony has long been the priority of the Catholic Church. “We are very actively promoting it all over the country. We are working with religious leaders, government officials, and are part of different programmes all over the country.” However, there is still a lot to do, especially the interfaith harmony is to be promoted at the school and grassroots level.

He said that Catholic Church is a very organised entity whose head is His Holiness, Pope Francis. "The Catholic Church has seven dioceses in Pakistan. The Head of every diocese is a bishop. Three main cities have Archbishop as heads including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad-Rawalpindi."

Archbishop Joseph Arshad heads Islamabad Rawalpindi Diocese includes half of Punjab and the whole province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He is also the President of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Archbishop is of the opinion that the electoral process needs changes and minorities shall have the right to elect their own representatives. “Representatives chosen by the political parties work for their own party instead of representing their community,” he said while suggesting that political parties shall give chance to minority candidates in general elections on general seats, especially in areas where minority community is in majority. Integration of minorities would not be possible until they stay out of the political process,” he added.

Archbishop Joseph Arshad also stressed the need to work with youth. They are more than 60 per cent of the population. Concentrating on young people is the key to sustainable development.”