We Must Persevere in Interreligious Dialogue, Says Bishop of Islamabad

Tells of Tense Situation in Pakistan

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ROME, OCT. 12, 2001 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- In the wake of the military strikes launched against neighboring Afghanistan, Bishop Anthony Theodore Lobo of Islamabad-Rawalpindi stated firmly: "This is not a religious war."



Bishop Lobo left the Synod of Bishops in Rome to return to his faithful in Pakistan, who are living in fear of Muslim fundamentalists´ vengeance.

"Now more than ever, we must seek dialogue between the religions and look into the causes of injustice that fuel violence and terrorism," he told the Italian newspaper Avvenire in an interview.

--Q: Do you think Pakistan runs the risk of a civil war?

--Bishop Lobo: According to the generals, between 10-15% of the population takes part in protests. These are very low figures to speak of civil war. The government believes it can control them.

--Q: It is a government that, in the past, supported the Taliban. Is this no longer true?

--Bishop Lobo: Yes, it was the first government to support the Taliban and the last to continue diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have recalled their representations.

It has continued to support the Taliban even though the United States believes that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden´s terrorists are responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Like NATO, the executive called for proofs of this culpability. Now the United States has shown [these proofs], and, as a result, the Pakistani government has recognized the right to self-defense in the case of terrorist attacks.

--Q: The United States and Britain announced that they might attack other states.

--Bishop Lobo: All this can be avoided. If these countries, which allegedly protect terrorists, put an end to their actions, there is no need for military attacks. The objective is very specific: the terrorists and their networks.

--Q: There are 144,616,639 inhabitants in Pakistan. Catholics, distributed in six dioceses, are just over 1 million. Their border diocese has 120,000 faithful, 25 priests, 110 religious. Is interreligious dialogue still possible?

--Bishop Lobo: In these crisis situations, the highest values are the first thing to recede into the background. However, a certain kind of Islam, the mystical Sufi current, is quite close to the Christian, and it is possible to talk, to begin a dialogue.

Sadly, another type of rhetoric predominates now, and these values take second place. This is why we must persevere in the interreligious dialogue, so that the values that enrich these two religions will flower.

Work must also be done in education. With 30 cents per $100 -- 3 per mil -- of global wealth, we could educate all the children of the world.

--Q: What might many of the disinherited in the world think when they hear Osama bin Laden call for a holy war?

--Bishop Lobo: If people are left in ignorance, they cannot have critical judgment. Then, they can believe anything they are told. This is why the challenge is to educate people.

--Q: What is the situation of the refugees?

--Bishop Lobo: There are some 2 million refugees in Pakistan, but many more are arriving. Both Caritas International as well as Caritas in the nearest dioceses, like mine, are helping the refugees. Although there are no Christians among them, we come to their aid because they are human beings. It is one more proof that there is no religious war.

--Q: But the conflict can spread. Do you see any ray of hope?

--Bishop Lobo: I think people don´t want war. War only brings destruction and mourning. I continue to believe in the power of prayer and in God´s capacity to bring good from evil.