"Pakistan Is Leaving Fundamentalism Behind," Bishop Of Islamabad Says

Bishop Anthony Lobo notes shift towards Catholic schooling

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MILAN, MAY 13, 2002 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).-A leading figure of the Catholic Church in Pakistan, said that the country is not the bastion of fundamentalism that Western media would lead one to believe.



Bishop Anthony Lobo of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, born into a Catholic family of Goa, then British India and today Pakistan, is a friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

President Musharraf was a student in a secondary school where the Bishop taught.

This Pakistan strongman has undergone a metamorphosis from a Muslim dictator and protector of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to a pro-Western liberal leader. "He is the best there is," the Bishop added succinctly.

"Abroad, I discover that Pakistan´s image is very negative: fundamentalism and intolerance, violence, corruption, and drug sales. We, who live there, do not think this is the only reality."

The Bishop acknowledged the limits at the religious level, but explained, "There is no official policy of persecution. Catholics, 2 million among a population of 150 million Muslims, are marginalized for social and historical reasons. 250 years ago, those who converted belonged to excluded social levels: the landless," the Bishop added.

"The colonial authority gave land to those who converted; this is the reason many went to live in ´Christian villages.´ This is why today there are no influential or rich Christians. They are a very small middle class, with little education and a monthly income of between $50-100."

"Now, following September 11, the Musharraf government is returning to Catholics schools that were nationalized 20 years ago," the Bishop continued. "After so many years, we do not have a body of teachers to make the Catholic schools function, and a good part of the reason for our presence is to ´give witness´ by offering good schools, good hospitals."

"However, it is a good sign. I think that the country today is prepared to leave fundamentalism behind, and to return to the ideas of the founders: a modern, progressive, and tolerant State. In a recent referendum, Muslim fundamentalists obtained only 5% of the votes. The great majority of Pakistanis does not really like them," the Bishop said.

"Believe me, fundamentalism is a frankenstein created by the United States to serve an anti-Soviet purpose, which has turned against its creators," Bishop Lobo concluded.