“Social discrimination,” accusations of blasphemy and concern for minorities were at the heart of the meeting of Pakistan’s Bishops with Pope Francis on Thursday, March 15, 2018, according to “Vatican News.”
This “very friendly” meeting, as “a family that talks of its problems,” took place in the framework of the Pakistani Bishops’ ad Limina Visit to Rome, explained Monsignor Joseph Arshad, President of the local Episcopal Conference and Archbishop of the diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, who led the delegation.
The Archbishop confided that the Bishops hope the Pope will visit Pakistan, “if the circumstances permit him,” because “he loves us,” he explained.
In regard to the subject of “social discrimination, Archbishop Arshad explained that it’s a question of marginalization, touching both Christians and Muslims, with an evident split between the rich and the poor.
The President of the Pakistani Episcopal Conference recalled the accusations of blasphemy, notably the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death, who has been in prison for over 3,000 days. Last February 24, Pope Francis met with Asia’s family and, as Aid to the Church in Need reported, she can now pray the Rosary that the Pope gave her and that her husband and daughter brought to her in the Multan prison.
However, observed Archbishop Arshad, accusations of blasphemy aren’t leveled “only” against Christians, but concern the majority of the population. He also spoke of the progress made by the government on the question of the Blasphemy Law.
Another worrying subject is the situation of minorities in Pakistan. The Pope constantly thinks of the country’s Christians, said the Archbishop. He did so particularly days before the seventh anniversary of the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister of Minorities, who was murdered on March 2, 2011by an Islamist extremist. At present, the High Court of Islamabad has confirmed the obligation of all citizens to communicate their religious membership to obtain identity documents. Following this decision, militants of the Rights of Man expressed their fears for members of minority Confessions.
In regard to the Pakistani Church’s involvement in inter-religious dialogue, Archbishop Arshad stressed that it’s “very important to have good relations with Muslim religious leaders.”
In Pakistan, Christians represent 2% of a population of 185 million inhabitants, who are Muslim in the majority.