It is only a few minutes ago that the address of Maryam Nawaz Sharif concluded at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore. Scrolling the channels, I saw Maryam Nawaz Sharif addressing the same topics we have been talking about for ages now. Panama verdict, voting for the upcoming elections, clarifying the allegations, and so on. It’s like the annoying jingle you hear on loop, and even if you turn it off, the jingle keeps ringing in your mind nonstop, till you actually start singing it yourself. But to free myself from this suffering, I switched the channel only to find Maryam’s address live on every news channel. It was only after seeing one of the channels showing the entire scene that I realised she was standing at the Altar of The Sacred Heart Cathedral addressing the community in her most political interest. I rechecked and read the tickers blinking on the screen. Yes, she was allowed to deliver a very political address from the Altar.
I am a non-political person, and I believe there are other ways of contributing towards building a progressive Pakistan than getting involved in a political chaotic brew. I negate invalid criticism and indecent remarks about any political personality because that is simply not decent. But, to see and hear a political address made right from the Altar, which is the most sacred part of a Church, is absolutely unacceptable. The Church simply cannot allow a place of worship should not be used for material interests no matter who it is!
Soon after this, I raised an alarm to alert all the active and senior members of the Catholic community. Of course, the entire incident came as a shock to them. So, we all began the inquiries! What alarms us is that we, the most closest and active members of the Church, were unaware of this farce. We may not be missionaries, but we work so closely with the Church that even we, including the entire Priesthood community across Pakistan, had no clue as to why this happened! Let alone us the lay missionaries – even the Catechists (assistants of priests), the Nuns and the Altar Boys (servers) do not sit on the Altar unless they are providing help during the Holy Mass (prayer service). Yet, to see a trail of non-missionaries who are a not part of the clergy is absolutely unacceptable. Sitting at the Altar with the Archbishop and Maryam Nawaz were also the very senior Bishop Azad Marshall,politicians Kamran Michael and Khalil Tahir. Point to note: Maryam Nawaz was permitted to deliver her political address from ‘The Sacred DIAS’ used for the Bible Reading.
The sad incident reminded me of ‘The Cleansing of the Temple’ – Mathew 21:12-13 and John 2: 13-17 from The Holy Bible in which Jesus Christ reacts to the business and political activities at the temple. Addressing the situation, Jesus said, “It is written my house will be called a house of prayer,but you are making it a den of robbers.” Today, the sanctity of the Holy Church is insulted.
The entire community has taken to social media expressing their anguish and hurt. This drew the attention of the senior clergy, who immediately contacted the Archbishop. A senior priest, who enquired the Archbishop directly on this matter informed that according to His Grace Archbishop Sabastian Shaw, Mariam Aurangzeb had been visiting him for past two days pleading him to offer prayers for Begum Kalsoom Nawaz. It is because of this the entire event at the Cathedral was held today.
The question remains: prayers are regularly offered for the sick during the Sunday Mass and this could have been done then. Even if a special prayer service was held, why was it followed by a political address?
Michelle Chaudhry, President Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation informed, “The Church was used for the upcoming NA 120 Election Campaign by the Church leadership and PML-N under the garb of prayers for Kalsoom Nawaz. The sanctity of the Church has been violated by the very custodians of the Church – those who are responsible to uphold its sanctity.”
“While we uphold the custodians of the Church responsible, the ministers of the community representing a political party should be held responsible too. This is a clear mockery of the Church. By holding this political event in the Cathedral they are disrespecting the decision of the Supreme Court,” commented a senior peace activist of the Christian community.
Catholics in Pakistan, an official social media community took to Facebook posting, “We as a team Catholics in Pakistan thinks the Church must keep Herself separate from this politics. The Altar, a sacred place in a Catholic Church must not be handed over to any politician. Today #MariamNawaz begged for votes using our Sacred Altar. #WeCondemn. Do you??”
Asif Nazir, a prominent member of the Catholic Church in Gujranwala stated, “The Church is always opened to prayers and peace activities. However, peace campaigns are non-political. It is against the Catholic doctrine to use the Church, and most especially the Altar, for non-liturgical activities.”
The Christian community across the nation, as well as Pakistani overseas Christians, have taken to social media expressing their resentment. A Pakistani Catholic studying at the Vatican WhatsApped her stance saying, “I am extremely saddened by the “political” event that took place at the St. Anthony’s Cathedral Lahore. I heard what Maryam Nawaz Sharif said but I wonder how much of it was true. If their government really supported our community why are so many suffering? More than anything I am extremely disappointed by our Archbishop. Strangely, he had time to pray for Maryam Nawaz Sharif for this but had no time to attend Sr Ruth Pfau’s funeral, where all the other bishops were present. I wonder why his priorities have changed. The Church should not involve Herself with politics and keep true to Her mission.”
The Christian community demands His Grace Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of the Catholic Church and Bishop Azad Marshal of the Anglican Church to officially apologize to the Community. In fact, the community demands the Bishops and the parish priest of The Sacred Heart Cathedral to step down for degrading the sanctity of the Church. The community is offended over this act organized by Kamran Michael and Khalil Tahir.
Political parties must note that they cannot buy the community by making the Church its channel for communication. To run a successful nation, it is essential to keep state and religion separate. History has time and again shown the torment nations have suffered at the hands of religion and state as an ally. Especially where it concerns the minorities of a nation, the minorities need to tread cautiously.