A Dominican in Pakistan
Father Patrick Peter Discusses Christian Persecution
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ROME, JUNE 6, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Christians in Pakistan face serious persecution, but the problem is not that they are a tiny minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.
In fact, says Dominican Father Patrick Peter, Catholics and Muslims form lifelong friendships in the country's Catholic schools. Problems, he said, arise with students from only a particular type of school.
The television program "Where God Weeps" of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Father Peter about his own vocation and the situation of Catholics in Pakistan.
Q: You're from Pakistan, but your name is Patrick?
Father Peter: I was religiously brought up; my family is very Catholic. My father's name is Peter and he gave me my name because it begins with the letter "P." He thought that it was the best name and also because of the Dominican Fathers.
Q: Why did you become a Dominican?
Father Peter: When I was a child I knew about the Dominican Fathers in the Faisalabad Diocese because my father was working for the Dominicans. My aunt on my father's side was a Dominican sister of St. Catherine of Siena and an uncle on my mother's side was also a Dominican priest. So through these people, I had a desire to be a Dominican.
I did not know at that time the difference between a diocesan and a religious priest. In my 8th or 9th grade I just said that I wanted to become a priest. When I was in college I came to understand a bit more of the religious life and then I spoke to my uncle who was a Dominican and he said: "Come, come and join us." So I joined, in Faisalabad, the Dominicans.
Q: Who are the Christians in Pakistan? Are they the poor?
Father Peter: The majority of Christians in Pakistan are the poor. They often receive or exist on a meager subsistence. It is a big challenge for Christians in Pakistan -- even for the educated. The majority of Christians are often so poor that they cannot afford to pay the bribes to access good jobs, while the Muslims have better chances because they are able to afford it -- and the law gives preferences to a Muslim.
Q: Are Christians persecuted because of their faith?
Father Peter: Yes! In Pakistan we Christians are being persecuted. We are especially having difficulties with this blasphemy law: a law that whoever says something against the prophet Mohammed or whoever dishonors or tears a page from the Quran can be accused and charged under this law.
Q: Have you personally experienced discrimination or persecution?
Father Peter: I've not, but after my ordination when I was young, I witnessed a case. On my first day as a priest, after saying a thanksgiving Mass, I met a group of Christians, about 16 to 17 families, who had been accused of saying something against the prophet. They had all been expelled from their village and their homes had been burned down.
Q: The bishop of Faisalabad has said that Christians play a primary role in the progress of the country. What does he mean by that?
Father Peter: He said this especially to emphasize that the Christians have the same obligations as Muslims. We are all Pakistanis. We all face difficulties. We contribute equally to the progress of Pakistan in the field of education and medicine. In Pakistan the Catholic Church has many educational institutions and accepts everyone. Catholic hospitals also accept everyone. So the Christians, and the Catholics specifically, have a special faith-witness among the Muslims by living our Christian values, both in how we are a witness to our faith through our apostolate of service and in how we live our daily lives.
Q: How do Catholic schools play an important role in Pakistan?
Father Peter: We have two school categories: The English medium schools and the Urdu schools. The majority of Pakistanis who can afford the cost of schooling send their children to the English medium schools. Missionary schools, which include the Catholic schools, fall under this category. The majority of Pakistanis, who are predominantly Muslim, prefer these missionary schools.
Q: How can one explain persecution against Christians when so many Muslims go to Catholic schools?
Father Peter: The problem is not the average Muslim in general. The problems come from students from the Madaris schools (Islamic religious schools and seminaries) run by some mosques. The students who come from our schools have very good relationships among each other and often develop lifelong friendships.
Q: Is there a possibility of dialogue with the Muslim community?
Father Peter: Of course there is and dialogue is ongoing. In my village as a child, we, Christians and Muslims, had a very good relationship. We would chat and develop friendships.
Q: How are you going to help your country?
Father Peter: I'm already involved in formation and one of my roles is to train the priests of tomorrow. I will help ready them so that when they are in the field they will have a good approach toward the people -- to prepare the people, to educate the people.
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This interview was conducted by Marie-Pauline Meyer for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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