THE Archbishop of Canterbury praised the “amazing grace” of persecuted Christians in Pakistan during a two-day visit to the country, on Saturday. Archbishop Welby travelled to Lahore and Islamabad, against official advice, to meet the communities of the Church in Pakistan who have been the victims of terror attacks in recent years. It is the first time that an Archbishop has visited Pakistan for a second time during office.
It came three years after a suicide bombing at All Saints’, Peshawar, in which 85 people were killed, and more than 100 others injured (News, 4 October 2013). Archbishop Welby joined the survivors for a service at St Thomas’s, Islamabad, on Saturday, which he described as “deeply moving”.
On Sunday, he preached at the Central Cathedral of Praying Hands, in Lahore, before meeting relatives, both Christian and Muslim, of the 14 people killed in an attack outside St John’s RC Church and the Anglican Christ Church, in Youhanabad, a Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, last year (News, 15 March 2015).
Since then, there have been a further 26 terror attacks in the country, resulting in the deaths of more than 600 people.
Archbishop Welby was accompanied by the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Samuel Azariah, who expressed his thanks for the visit in a video message, on Tuesday.
“The Archbishop went contrary to the advice of his own Foreign Ministry, [and] of the British High Commission, and took a very major and drastic decision that in spite all of the negativities being given to him to postpone this visit, he said he would go there,” Bishop Azariah said. “He was determined to visit to Pakistan. . . So we want to thank him from the depth of our heart.”
The Archbishop also met the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, to discuss the protection of religious minorities, and freedom of religion, in the country.
There are arbout 3.9 million Christians living in Pakistan: around two per cent of the population. This figure was 1.6 per cent ten years ago. Anti-persecution charities have warned that the decline is due in part to the country’s strict blasphemy laws, and an increase in violent Christian persecution.
“We live in a complicated situation. Not only is it complicated, but it is complex,” Bishop Azariah said. “It is our prayer, our faith, that the Lord will give wisdom and continue to protect and guide our brother Justin [Welby] as he leads the Communion in the challenging and difficult times facing the world today.”
Punjab schools in crisis
by Hattie Williams
FOUR out of five teachers in low-cost Christian private schools in Punjab, Pakistan, have no teaching qualification, while 24 per cent of pupils have no textbooks, notebooks, or pencils, the Christian charity Starfish Asia has reported.
Its report For a Better World, published last week, warns that the Christian minority in Pakistan is experiencing a “crisis” in education: the majority of children from Christian families are “too frightened” to attend government-run schools, and “too poor” to attend even church-led private schools.
In its survey of 85,000 poor children across 604 schools in Punjab, from January, the report concludes that fewer than half of teachers (39 per cent) had obtained a Bachelor’s degree or higher. And 3374 teachers (of 4218 surveyed) had no professional teaching qualifications at all.
The average salary for teachers with a degree was also “well below” the minimum wage set for unskilled workers by the Pakistani government, it says. Some teachers were working for about £15 a month.
Facilities were also lacking. Mixed-gender primary, middle, and upper schools (to the age of 16) with low fees and a Christian population of 50 per cent or more were included in the survey. About 22 per cent of these schools (133) had no usable drinking water, while half did not have a playground. Two per cent of primary schools had internet access, compared with seven per cent of middle schools, and 23 per cent of upper schools. Libraries were equally scarce at four, five, and 15 per cent respectively.
The survey found that just more than a third of the schools surveyed (36 per cent, 218 schools) were receiving subsidy funding from the government, churches, or other NGOs, suggesting that 386 schools were dependent on school fees or other sources for their running costs, rent, and salaries.
Mike Wakely, an executive trustee of Starfish Asia, which supports 35 schools in the country, warned that small businesses were having to fill in the gaps left by the Church and state. “Starfish Asia, together with our partner Starfish Pakistan, is committed to tackling this huge tragedy — the potential loss of a generation of Christians in Pakistan — and believe it should be of deep concern to the Church,” he said.
Introducing the report, the director of Starfish Pakistan, Anser Javed, said: “Without education, our community and the nation will remain poor and unproductive; and without the extraordinary initiatives of the private sector, many thousands of Pakistan’s children will still remain illiterate and marginalised.”