Christian leaders in Pakistan say they were ignored during the visit of Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge that concludes today.
“They didn’t even bother to hold a meeting with the Catholic or Protestant bishops of Lahore. While following the travel plans of the host government, they should have at least taken time out to personally visit the Christian community,” Rev. Shahid P. Meraj, vicar of the Diocese of Lahore of the Church of Pakistan, told ucanews.
The dean of the Anglican Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Lahore plans to issue a press release expressing its concern after Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton wrap up their first visit to the predominantly Muslim country. The couple are being protected by 1,000 police officers.Besides meeting government leaders, Prince William followed in the footsteps of both his parents with a visit to Badshahi Mosque, one of the most prominent Islamic monuments in Lahore. The Church of Pakistan’s bishop of Peshawar joined the couple for an interfaith meeting at the mosque on Oct. 17.
However, Rev. Meraj said Church of Pakistan officials in Lahore missed the royal reception in Islamabad. “There was no coordination between the British High Commission and Church of Pakistan during the five-day tour. They have broken an age-old tradition,” he said.
Britain ruled the Indian subcontinent from 1858 until the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. In February 1961, Queen Elizabeth II visited Pakistan on her first tour of countries outside Europe. She is the head of the Church of England, considered the original church of the Anglican Communion. Together with her husband, Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, she attended a church service at St. John’s Cathedral of Peshawar.
Rev. Meraj also remembers the 2006 visit of Charles, the Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla Parker, the Duchess of Cornwall, to his church in Lahore. Archbishop Emeritus Lawrence Saldanha, then president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, also met Charles and spoke of the difficulties faced by Christians in Pakistan.
Father Qaiser Feroz, executive secretary of the Pakistani bishops’ social communications commission, had “no idea” about any meeting between Catholic bishops and the royal couple this time. He declined to comment on their tour.
Joseph Francis, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, which helps persecuted Christians, was critical of the Duke and Duchess.
“The pair could have visited missionary schools and hospitals. Besides local churches, civil society was also ignored. They could have met Christian and Muslim human rights activists at the headquarters of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, one of the oldest human rights organizations in the country,” he said.
Francis, who met Queen Elizabeth in 1997 during her second visit for Pakistan’s golden jubilee, was also suspicious of the British embassy and the federal government.
“It was either of them. We had such great hopes. Such opportunities provide a chance to give us more confidence, put pressure on government and improve the situation of persecuted religious minorities. The challenges of untouchability and discrimination are more dominant in rural parishes,” he said.
Christian Democratic Party chairman Ben-Hur Yousaf Gill tweeted that he hoped the royal visit would help underage Christian girls who had become victims of forced religious conversions.Meanwhile, Christian social media users were vocal about the visit.
Shireen Aslam, a human rights activist in Attock district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, wrote on her Facebook page that she wished the royal couple had visited Edwardes College, Gordon College and Christian slums in a reference to the nationalization of church schools and colleges.