Pakistan’s Minister of National Harmony has given his backing to the Dignitatis Humanae Institute’s Universal Declaration of Human Dignity and offered to help establish a working group on human dignity in the Pakistani parliament.
Speaking after meeting His Eminence Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, the Honorary President of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, Akram Masih Gill said the Universal Declaration was a “much needed document in Pakistan where Christians and other minorities face many hardships and difficulties.”
The document, he added, is a “perfectly reasonable foundation for the defence of Christian minorities in the public square and is in line with Pakistan’s constitution which, according to the vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah [the founder of Pakistan], includes an emphasis on equal rights for all.”
Mr Gill, a Catholic, is the successor of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minorities Affairs who was assassinated earlier this year for speaking out against Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law. The Ministry for Minorities Affairs was devolved to local provinces after his death and Mr Gill’s Ministry of National Harmony was established in its place.
The new government department is dedicated to building inter-faith relationships and helping minorities to be recognised at a national level. “We represent just one of a series of steps this government is taking to safeguard the dignity of minorities in Pakistan,” Mr Gill said.
Christians make up just 2% of Pakistan’s population, numbering 2.8 million, and are often subject to discrimination and sometimes violence perpetrated by the Muslim majority.
The Minister is currently trying to help the country’s 504 Catholic institutions, many of which are schools and mostly attended by wealthy non-Christians, to become more accessible to the Christian poor.
Education plays a key role in fostering peaceful coexistence in Pakistan. A new study, co-sponsored by the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, found that Pakistan’s public schools and madrassas negatively portray the country’s religious minorities and reinforce biases. These then fuel acts of discrimination, and possibly violence, against these communities.
Speaking after their meeting, Cardinal Martino reassured Mr Gill that Pakistan’s Christians are not forgotten by the Church.
“Your trials are not in vain, nor wasted, neither still forgotten,” he said. “Indeed, all Christians are incalculably enriched in a supernatural way by your sufferings, and we draw inspiration and support from the witness you constantly undergo, in order to bear the name “Christian”. In return, you are assured of my prayers, and the prayers of all Christians, as we kneel together at the foot of Christ’s Cross.”
Cardinal Martino invited Christians in Pakistan “to bring to my attention situations of specific persecution as and when they arise” by communicating them to the Dignitatis Humanae Institute.
“If I can, when I see such reports, I will speak out on your behalf,” he said.