By Robin Gomes
A Catholic bishop of Pakistan has expressed concern over the confrontation between Pakistan and India over the disputed region of Kashmir and wishes the leaders of both the nuclear-armed nations take on the path of dialogue to save humanity.
Dialogue and peace
“Atomic weapons will never be needed or used if world leaders remain firm in their commitment to build global peace," Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said last week, during a ceremony to commemorate the historic meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil of Egypt, 800 years ago in Egypt 1219.
The ceremony took place amidst high tensions between India and Pakistan, particularly over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Recalling that both countries have nuclear weapons, Archbishop Shah urged Prime Ministers Narendra Modi of India and Imran Khan of Pakistan to "choose the path of dialogue to establish peace and save humanity".
The ceremony, held in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, was organized by Fr. Francis Nadeem, the custodian of Mariam Saddeeqa run by which is under the Capuchin Friars Minor of Pakistan. "Today we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt Al-Kamil. We promise to become means of peace in our society, just as these two great men of history have shown us the way of dialogue," Fr. Nadeem said.
Gestures of peace
The celebration started by ringing peace bells, an act of unity and solidarity with the international community of Europe. Archbishop Shah who returned from Belgium said that on the Feast of St. Francis on 4 October at 2 p.m., peace bells would be rung in 40 countries of the world. He thus urged that all the priests and faithful ring the church bells for peace.
Before entering the church, all the priests, religious and the faithful lit peace candles as a sign of renewal of their commitment to build peace in society.
Archbishop Shah along with the Capuchins of Pakistan released pigeons and white balloons in the air, sending a message of peace to the whole world, with a strong hope that peace is possible.
A highlight of the event was a drama representing the historical encounter between St. Francis and the Sultan of Egypt.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region, is at the heart of decades of hostility between Pakistan and India. The two rule parts of the Kashmir region while claiming the entire territory as their own. The nuclear-powered neighbours have fought two of their three wars since their independence in 1947 over control of this region.
Tensions escalated between the two nations and in the troubled Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, after the Indian government, through a presidential order on August 5, revoked Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which granted it special status. The move striped Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and constitutional autonomy and divided it into two separate territories bringing both under federal rule.
India accuses Pakistan of allowing militant groups to operate on its territory, an allegation Pakistan denies.