KASUR, Pakistan, JAN. 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Christian and Muslim representatives marched together along the India-Pakistan border to affirm their desire for peace in Kashmir and support initiatives for dialogue in both countries.
The march, organized by the Pakistani bishops’ Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, was led by Capuchin Friar Father Francis Nadeem, and took place Tuesday in Kasur, 55 kilometers (33 miles) south of Lahore.
At the end of the march, participants lighted a symbolic torch and planted a tree for peace at the border. Christian, Sunni and Shiite religious leaders offered prayers.
“The aim of the initiative was to start a new reciprocal consideration among the citizens of India and Pakistan,” Father Inayat Bernard, Kasur parish priest and executive secretary of the Commission, told the Vatican agency Fides.
“The participants prayed for both peoples as well as their respective political and civil leaders,” he said. “But peace begins at home, in our thoughts and in our deeds.”
The first signs of peace in Kashmir have given hope to the local population. Following the cease-fire declared in December, and the recent meeting between the heads of state of India and Pakistan — who have relaunched the dialogue — on Jan. 22 the Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani will receive representatives of the All Party Hurriyat Conference comprising various movements and activist groups in Kashmir, demanding independence from India.
Father Nadeem said, “Every effort must be made to support the India-Pakistan dialogue. Every citizen, every social organization, every political group must strive to adopt a change of attitude and rediscover a constructive approach which will bear lasting fruit. Peace will help both countries to eliminate poverty and promote development.”
Abdul Khabeer Azad, a Sunni imam of a mosque in Lahore, one of the Muslim leaders who took part in the march, said: “Islam is a religion of peace, and the Muslim community in Pakistan intends to support the peace process started by the government.”
With “this and similar initiatives we want to show the governments that we want peace for the tormented region of Kashmir,” said Shiite imam Waqar-ul-Husnain Naqvi.
Of Pakistan’s 143 million inhabitants, 75% are Sunni Muslims and 20% are Shiites. Christians represent 2%; Catholics number about 1.2 million.
The province of Kashmir of Muslim majority, divided between India and Pakistan, has been the cause of disputes between the two countries since their independence from the British Empire in 1947 and the reason for two wars.