29 July 2005

The plight of a small Catholic community


Pakistani priest visits West Belfast and makes plea

Appealing to the renowned generosity of the people of West Belfast, a Pakistani priest is in town for three weeks making it his mission to raise awareness of the plight of the very small Catholic community in Pakistan.
Speaking to the Andersonstown News, Fr James Shamaun detailed the plight of the tiny Christian population in the country.

“The Christian population of Pakistan is approximately one per cent of the total population. They are a tiny minority and are treated very much as second-class citizens. The vast majority of people are employed in low-paid jobs, mainly sweeping,” he said.

“The parish which I serve is known as St Joseph’s Cathedral Parish, it is situated near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. There are 15,000 Catholics in my parish who live in slums in sub-human conditions.”

Describing his parishioners as “very, very poor”, Fr Shamaun said the people earn a mere $1 per day and in some cases even less.

“It really is a miracle that these people are surviving on nothing but their dependence on God. The poverty is so intense that people are dying every day due to a lack of basic necessities including medication.

“Education is also a priority, 80 per cent of the people are illiterate yet the only government schools are staffed by Muslims and the syllabus is heavily biased and Islamic. Any Catholic children who attend these schools are subject to an apartheid of sorts. For example, they are not allowed to drink water from the same tap as the other children.”

Having met Father John Murray of St Luke's parish in the Czech Republic some years back, this is the second time that Fr Shamaun has taken him up on the invitation to visit Belfast.

“Fr Murray invited me to his parish when we met in the Czech Republic. I came three years ago and celebrated Mass there and on Sunday past I celebrated Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace. I told the congregation about my own parish, I wanted to make them aware of what is going on and perhaps they can help make some change. We cannot change everything but we can make some difference, through sharing we can experience real joy."

Fr Shamaun went on to compare the situation in his own parish to the plight of Catholics living in the North.

“This is the first generation of Christians living in a 98 per cent Muslim country. They are treated as second-class citizens in the same manner as Catholics were here in the North of Ireland, it's exactly the same type of situation with jobs and housing where Muslims are given priority over Pakistani Catholics."

The priest is trying to establish his parish in Rawalpindi Cantt outside Islamabad but is up against great obstacles including an extremely stubborn military government. He and his parishioners urgently require the help of their fellow-Catholics not only in West Belfast but across the world.

“I need your prayers and financial support to build the faith of our people and complete the church which is currently under construction. The help of the people of West Belfast would be highly appreciated in Rawalpindi Cantt,” he added.

• Anyone wishing to donate to Fr Shamaun's parish can contact Reggie Donnelly on 90 300980.

Journalist:: Francesca Ryan

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