The Christians of Pakistan mean nothing to the pope
The last Pope, Benedict XVI, elected at the age of 78, was the oldest person to have been elected as pope since 1730. In February 2013, he announced his retirement due to old age. The election of the new pope has been the talk of the town and the air is buzzing with excitement everywhere except in Pakistan.
Pope Francis, baptised name Jorge Mario Bergoglio, took the position on March 13, 2013, just days before the holy week of Easter began. Amongst other things, Pope Francis is the first pope to have been a Jesuit (head of the Society of Jesus) and the first ever to come from the South Hemisphere, the Americas, since the seventh century.
As with every newly elected pope, Pope Francis also has a lot of challenges that await his attention. The biggest challenge the pope now faces is to make his voice heard against issues of abortion, same sex marriages, child abuse and women’s rights, in a society that now defies religious boundaries.
Unfortunately, all of the above mentioned issues are deeply entrenched in western culture and society.
For the Christians in Pakistan, the election of the new pope used to be like another ray of hope. The last pope to have visited Pakistan was Pope John Paul II in February 1981. Pakistan in itself has had only one cardinal since its inception whereas there are six cardinals in South Asia overall; five of them are from India and one from Sri Lanka.
The Christian minority in Pakistan is said to be equally divided between Catholics and Protestants, although both the Catholic and Protestant churches work in a lot of harmony in Pakistan.
Where the Catholics have no further denominations, the Protestant Church has numerous notable denominations like the Church of Pakistan, Full Gospel Assemblies of Pakistan (FGA) and the Salvation Army etcetera. Each of these have their own set of hierarchies that are not connected to the pope when it comes to operations, actions or decision makings.
Keeping this in mind, it would be safe to say that half of the Christian population in Pakistan is not affected by any decisions made by the pope. Coming, however, to the Catholic minority in Pakistan, there has never been a direct statement made by any pope addressing the issues of the local Christian community here. Despite their plight being given media coverage all over the world, the Vatican has had little to no words of reassurance or condemnation for the Christian population here.
The misuse of the blasphemy law against Pakistani Christians is one of the biggest concerns and there have been many incidents that, in my opinion, have been acute enough to draw a statement from the pope. Examples of this range from the recent acts against the Christians of Joseph Colony, a fully Catholic colony, that was burnt to ashes, to the horrific acts of terrorism against Shanti Nagar over fifteen years ago, where an entire community was destroyed and made pariah. And yet, not a word has been uttered to relieve the Christians of their trauma - not a word has been said to condemn these grotesque incidents.
Even the decisions taken at large, for the Christian community worldwide, by the Pope have gone unheard - it does not even have a trickle down effect on the Pakistani Christian community.
Though the Christian population here pays great respect to the Pope as a head of the community, in reality it hardly matters who the next pope is. Having spoken to many Christians from local communities, I have come to the conclusion that after all that they have been through and with their calls for help gone unheard, indignation has replaced hope. There is no hope attached to the selection of the pope as they have never directly benefited from them. Hopes are pinned only when you believe that someone will hear or address the concerns you may have and in this case, the pope has failed the Christians of Pakistan - we seem not to matter - not to our government and not to our own pope.
A dialogue from a Pakistani movie that’s goes something like this, “Pakistani woh qaum hai, jiskay marnay ka kisi ko koi afsoos nahi hota. Ab khud unko bhi nahi” (No one cares for the lives of Pakistanis, not even they themselves.) made me realise that the only person who can help you is you.
We, the Christians of Pakistan, need to start working hard to attain positions where our voices can be heard loud and clear by our fellow Christians in the world and only then will our problems be put in front of the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the pope.
Read more by Rohan here, or follow him on Twitter @RohanD87