In 1940, a couple was married in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi by a priest, James Cornelius van Miltenburg. He went on to become Karachi’s first archbishop after Partition and the couple settled in the Punjab. They gave birth to two boys and one of them later became a priest in Lahore.
Later, van Miltenburg became the Archbishop of Hyderabad. After he passed away, the young Lahore priest moved to Hyderabad and went on to become its Coadjutor Bishop.
In 2012, he was ordained the fifth Archbishop of Karachi.
“He is standing before you now,” said the newly ordained Archbishop Joseph Coutts, standing in almost the same spot where his parents were married. “If [they] were alive [today] they would have been overwhelmed.”
It was a momentous day for Archbishop Coutts as he entered the cathedral on Saturday. It was significant that his grand Rite of Installation ceremony was taking place on St Patrick’s Day.
“It is a mystery,” he went on to say. “God acts amongst us, choosing people and sending them to spread His message.” He referred to the text of the Bible and said that Jeremiah, Jonah and Patrick were all chosen by God to become prophets.
Archbishop Coutts was humbled by the large number of people who had come out to support him and praised the community for its services in education, social services, among others.
“I was called to serve the church as a human being, not because I have special abilities,” he said, adding that he had not imagined that he would be sent across the country to serve the church. His previous work was in Faisalabad.
“Despite all our difficulties as a small minority, we are not a hidden one.” Christians are bearers of good news, he said. “We are people who bring good news to people in times of disaster.”
He recalled the time, 23 years ago, when Sindh was in flames and he was chosen to become the coadjutor bishop of Hyderabad where he chose one motto: Harmony. “We have all differences in linguistics, in religions, but we should learn to live with harmony with each other,” he said.
Coutts, who was dressed in cream robes, made his entrance by sprinkling holy water on the congregation. He walked behind a procession of priests holding a tall crucifix and Bible. As the prayers started, he sat next to Archbishop Evarist Pinto, who retired recently.
After prayers and hymns, the Rite of Canonical Installation ceremony started, in which the transfers of powers from Pinto to Coutts took place.
A Nuncio first read out the Apostolic Letter by Catholic leader Pope Benedict XVI, dated January 25, stating that Coutts would now lead the Archdiocese of Karachi. Archbishop Pinto then escorted Coutts to his new place.
The last time such a ceremony took place was in 2004 for Archbishop Pinto and thus Saturday was a first for some Christians. “It’s such a historic event,” remarked Marilyn Periera. “It is not something that happens every day.” For others it was a matter of seeking blessing. Hamida had come from Pahar Ganj. “In our church, they told us that we have a new bishop,” she said. “I have come to seek his blessing.” A happy Father Ashar Liaquat, who was present at the 2004 ceremony, said that while the rites were the same every time, the number of people turning up had increased. Definitely a good sign of the times to come.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2012.