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Pakistan bishop pledges to oppose blasphemy laws

Bishop Samson Shukardin (62) of Hyderabad, the newly elected head of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference (PCBC), pledged to challenge blasphemy laws in Pakistan to promote "Justice and peace."

These laws criminalize blasphemy against state-recognized religions, but critics claim that they often serve as a tool to oppress religious minorities and settle disputes among Muslims.

Asia Bibi, an illiterate Catholic woman, was sentenced to execution by hanging for blasphemy in 2010 until an international pressure campaign led to her release and settlement in Canada in 2019.

Bishop Shukardin  called the case a way of targeting and sentencing “innocent people."

“My mission is to raise my voice and bring help and relief to innocent victims,” Shukardin told Crux on November 19, 2023. 

He emphasized that though anti-Christian forces exist in Pakistani society, they are not universal.

“The government has been very supportive of our efforts," and "This anti-Christian sentiment doesn't exist across Pakistan but is scattered in various places," the prelate said.

“As president, I intend to focus on justice and peace, because our people are facing many difficulties and challenges, and we, as a Church, should address them to make them safer,” he said.

Among the problems cited by Bishop Shukardin were the kidnapping and forced conversion to Islam of young girls from minority communities.

“The Church must strive to get justice for the families and girls who are victims,” he said.

The bishop also wanted to promote education, given that a substantial share of Pakistan’s Catholic population comes from economically disadvantaged and culturally marginalized sectors of society.

"The vast majority of our people are the ‘weakest of the weak'," he said. “They’re not very educated because of discrimination."

“Catholic universities are not available to our people, while the privatization of schools has resulted in a lack of resources,” said Bishop Shukardin.

“All seven bishops consider education to be a priority since it will empower our people, making them self-sufficient and financially independent so they can lead dignified lives,” he said.

Bishop Shukardin said health care is also a priority for the conference, “to ensure that lack of resources does not impede access to medical care.”

In addition, Shukardin said that interfaith dialogue is a natural priority given the estimated 1.3 million Catholics in Pakistan.

There are six Catholic dioceses in Pakistan, plus one apostolic vicariate, under Bishop Shukardin, who succeeded Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi.


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