MUMBAI, India – A Catholic Church on the premises of the University of Agriculture Faisalabad “will leave a message of love and harmony” throughout Pakistan, according to the president of the country’s bishops’ conference.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was inaugurated on April 15, and Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad said the words of Quaid Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had been fulfilled: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

Arshad thanked the administration of the University of Agriculture – one of the top research institutions in the country – for showing interest in the Christian community at the university and for allowing them to have a place of worship.

The university’s vice chancellor, Muhammad. Zafar Iqbal, said it was important to meet the religious needs of the university’s Christian students and staff.

“The mosque or church both are sacred places for worship of God and I believe in interfaith harmony and said church building in the university’s premises is a living example of Christian-Muslim brotherhood,” Iqbal said.

“This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that a church was constructed at a university and other government institutions should follow these steps to ensure minority rights as guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan,” he continued

Arshad told Crux the inauguration of the church will have numerous consequences: “Respect for other religions, giving a message of peace and harmony, facilitating the integration of religious minorities into larger society, demonstrating the importance of learning and knowing about other religions, and allowing students of different religions to learn to live together.”

Cecil S. Chaudhry, the executive director of the bishops’ conference National Commission for Justice and Peace, said the move was a “positive step,” especially given the recent attacks by Islamists against the country’s small Christian minority.

“This move I feel would be beneficial in bridging any gaps between the majority and minority while also providing a message of respecting members of different faiths in all spheres of life especially educational institutions. Equal citizenship is a right of every individual regardless of caste, color or creed as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan,” Chaudhry told Crux.

“I feel such an initiative should be followed by other major educational Universities as it would promote interfaith harmony while also addressing any sense of deprivation to the students from the Christian faith that their rights are being safeguarded and duly taken into consideration,” he said.