By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis welcomed visiting Pakistani Catholic bishops in the Vatican on Thursday, making them feel at home but showed great concern for the tiny Catholic community that is facing difficulties in the predominantly Muslim nation.
Members of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC) are currently in Rome on what is called the “ad limina” visit. Heads of dioceses make such visits every 5 years or so to report on the state of their jurisdictions.
PCBC president, Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad led four other Pakistani bishops in concelebrating Holy Mass with Pope Francis Thursday morning and later meeting him in a group.
It was a “wonderful feeling meeting the Pope” because the serious encounter was held in a very “informal atmosphere,” Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi told Vatican News.
Feeling at home
Arch. Coutts said that unlike the last “ad limina” in 2008, this meeting was more informal where the Pope reminded them they were all bishops, he being the Bishop of Rome. It was “like a chat” but the bishops brought out “serious problems”.
The Holy Father was keen to know about the situation in the Church. But what pleased most Arch. Coutts was the way Pope made them feel at home. In a lighter mood at a particular point, the Pope said there was drinking water available, and if needed, there was a toilet nearby.
Concern for Pakistan’s Christians
However, Archbishop of Karachi said that they also talked about serious issues. One could see the concern on the Pope’s face regarding the negative feeling about Pakistan abroad, especially with issues such as terrorism, and how they were coping with the situation.
Being Christian in non-Christian milieau
The bishops told the Pope that they had a “lot of challenges” but there was also hope. The Catholic Church is contributing much to society and to the development of the country, especially through education, hospitals and other charitable works such as with the handicapped and drug addicts. All these are a witness to their faith and what it means “to be a Christian in a non-Christian milieu.” The bishops pointed out that Catholic institutions are open to everyone, not just Christians.
Dialogue of life
The Holy Father also encouraged the bishops in inter-religious dialogue, which the archbishop said comes “quite natural” to the Church in Pakistan. However, this consists more in “a dialogue of life” rather than in discussions and lectures. He said it is “sharing of our lives and common problems” and other issues like education.
As a case in point, the 72-year old archbishop spoke about the Holy Family Hospital in his Archdiocese of Karachi, where most of the doctors were Muslims. There were a few Hindus but no Catholics. This way, he said, they were working together to respond to the “common human needs.”