Bishop Tom Neylon, Lead Bishop for Asia for the Bishops’ Conference, has recently returned from a week-long trip to Pakistan with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Visiting from 9th-16th March, Bishop Neylon visited a number of projects funded by the charity and met with the faithful, priests and bishops in the major cities of Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore and Faisalabad.
Making reference to the fact that Church attendance in Pakistan is very strong, Bishop Neylon received a warm welcome and explained how, at one Friday afternoon Mass in Rawalpindi, there were over 1,000 worshipers in the cathedral with many more outside unable to get in.
“The Church is very strong. It’s very much a minority – between one and two percent of the population would be Christian/Catholic and there are other minority faiths and religions in the country as well. Even though there are a small number of Catholics, in terms of the attendance at church – the place was full…
“The evidence we saw, without any kind of prodding or probing, was the number of people who would turn up for prayer or for Mass – there’s something like a 70% practice rate among the local Catholic population. So, given the environment in which they live, where there can be discrimination of minorities, and well-documented cases where there’s been violence or even killings associated with places of worship, people make a deliberate choice to say, ‘yes, I want to live my faith. I want to practise my faith. I want to share my faith with my children.’”
“The education for young people, for young adults as well, [is very important] to try and lift them out of poverty, to seek qualifications to get them into the civil service, so they’re able then to join the wider community in serving Pakistan’s society through the civil service network.”
He also praised the Catholic Church for delivering education and healthcare services that provide for wider society and not just their own community.
“We heard stories that there are Catholic schools and Catholic hospitals, but they serve the wider community as well. They’re not just in an enclave or a ghetto, but they’re there really to serve the wider society. I think in terms of education, there’s something like 300 Catholic schools across the whole of Pakistan, and very often some of the schools are well subscribed by people not of Christian or Catholic faith, but the majority of people in the population.”
Bishop Tom Neylon made the visit to Pakistan in his capacity as Lead Bishop for Asia for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales at the invitation of Aid to the Church in Need who organised the visit. ACN UK’s website can be found at acnuk.org