Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - "The Franciscan Rule in Pakistan and with it the proclamation of the Gospel through the witness to the charism of St. Francis of Assisi has borne many fruits in a country like Pakistan. The fruits are especially in the field of interreligious dialogue, of promoting and practicing peace, of being close to the poor, in a country with an Islamic majority", said the President of the Pakistan branch of the Catholic World Association for Communication SIGNIS and Executive Secretary of the Commission for Social Communication of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, Father Qaisar Feroz (OFM Cap) from Lahore to Fides.
"The period of Franciscan anniversaries, such as the 800th anniversary of the adoption of the Order's Rule of 1223 and the upcoming celebration of Christmas in Greccio, is celebrated here with meetings, liturgical celebrations and charitable initiatives in which the entire Franciscan family in Pakistan is involved (Friars Minors, Capuchin Friars Minor, Franciscan nuns, Secular Franciscan Order, Franciscan Youth) which "are a fruitful sign for the entire local Church, which adopts from St. Francis of Assisi the style of humility and fraternity to live the faith in the context of a nation like Pakistan, which is sometimes marked by difficulties and challenges," noted the religious.
"Today the roots of the Franciscan presence in the country are deep," continued the Capuchin friar, considering that the first Franciscan missionaries arrived in the Indian subcontinent in 1880 - long before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The Italian Capuchin friar was Paolo Tosi, the first Franciscan to set foot in this country as Vicar Apostolic of the Punjab, followed by the mission of the Belgian Capuchins, to whom the Holy See entrusted the pastoral care of the diocese of Lahore in 1888. Since then, the Franciscan mission has continued with the establishment of religious communities and the construction of churches, schools, hospitals - works that are still fully at the service of the population today, especially the poorest", he says.
The proclamation of peace and service to the poor are the two priorities of the Franciscan presence in Pakistan. "To be peacemakers," he emphasizes, "interreligious dialogue, especially Islamic-Christian dialogue, is essential in this country. It is crucial to build good relationships with Muslim leaders and ordinary people of the Muslim faith in order to avoid prejudice, discrimination and to defuse possible hostility, in the logic of 'Fratelli Tutti'. Today we can say that after a long and patient work to build good relations, many Muslims have become ambassadors of peace and are working with us to make Pakistan a place of coexistence and peaceful coexistence, for the good of all.
This is a very encouraging sign that shows that the spirit of Francis, who traveled to Egypt at the time of the Crusades to meet the Sultan, has borne fruit." "The works of charity of the Franciscans are aimed at the homeless, the sick and the weak, or at the outcasts, marginalized, on the margins of society," continued Father Feroz. "We are close to them in spirit, always on the side of the poor to stand and be poor among the poor ourselves. To do this means to be a living Gospel here, as Francis was". The Franciscans in Pakistan are mainly present in the provinces of Sindh (with branches of the Order of Friars Minor) and Punjab with several communities of the Order of Capuchins. Lay Franciscans and young Franciscans have several communities in the two provinces, where there are also women's orders inspired by the Franciscan charism. A Franciscan, Sebastian Shaw OFM, is currently Archbishop of Lahore; a Capuchin friar, Bishop Khalid Rehmat OFM Cap, is Vicar Apostolic of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 30/11/2023)