MUMBAI, India – Catholics in Pakistan have begun the celebration of a Year of the Eucharist, in order to help them face the challenges affecting the Church in the South Asian country.

“Our Christians are facing multiple difficulties in Pakistan. But the Holy Eucharist bears out to be the source of strength for them in face of every new day dawning with new challenge in their life of faith,” Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad, the president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement.

“Hence, for Pakistani Christian community, the Eucharist is life and the basis of faith. Just like the international community of priests, the Pakistani priestly community too celebrates the Eucharist with high reverence. Wherein, the faithful take part with dedicated sentiment of faith. For every celebration of the Holy Eucharist touches their lives,” Arshad continued.

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There are about 2.5 million Christians in the Muslim-majority country, making up less than two percent of the population. Of these, around half are Catholics.

The Year of the Eucharist in Pakistan runs Nov. 26, 2017 – Nov. 25, 2018.

“The opening ceremony of the Year of Eucharist was held on a national level in Karachi, and the closing will also be held next year on a national level in Lahore,” Arshad told Crux.

Before launching the Year of the Eucharist on a national level, Arshad held a three-day Festival of Peace in his own Diocese of Faisalabad.

The festival includes presentations of music, poetry, drama, painting, poster making, handicraft making, acting, and speaking.

“The clarion call was to pledge ourselves for peace,” Arshad said. “We shall remain non-violent and support every effort for building a just society, where human rights are upheld, the dignity of men and women is promoted, family life is respected, and the values of the Kingdom of God are preached and lived. We shall use the pulpit to preach the Word of God, the dignity and respect for human beings and the message of Peace and promote harmony in Pakistani society.”

The bishop told Crux that Pakistan is facing several challenges, including poverty, religious rights, equal rights for women, and equality in the search for justice.

Arshad tied the adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist with ushering in an era of peace.

“Together, let us continue to forge new paths of peace, lighting candles of peace amid the darkness of hatred,” he said.

The bishop also noted the positive effects of Pope Francis’s just-concluded trip to the region.

“The visit of the Holy Father to Myanmar and Bangladesh is a great honor and encouragement to the Church in Asia,” Arshad told Crux. “His Holiness is showing immense love and honor to the Churches which are far away geographically from Rome, and also to the Church which is a minority.”

The bishop said the papal visit will have a “tremendous impact” for Asia, which is a center for the world’s major religions.

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“The Holy Father has interreligious meetings and calls for religions to work together for peace and for the common good,” he said.

Arshad quoted Francis when describing what he hoped the Year of the Eucharist would achieve for Pakistan: “Jesus in the Eucharist is a ray of hope for the world. Renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed in his image. By our gratifying life and experience, we proclaim to the needy, especially the poor and the oppressed, the Good News of hope, forgiveness, healing and love. Walking with them shoulder to shoulder in search of life aspirations and benign life in Jesus Christ, we carry out the mission of renewal of the world.”

The bishop said he prayed God would grant men and women the strength to “break the walls that divide human beings and help them to strengthen the bonds of mutual love and learn to understand one another.”